Police and bylaw officers should be able to decide whether to ticket people for sleeping in cars, acting Victoria Police Chief Del Manak told councillors Thursday.
Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman had proposed that council approve an exemption to the city’s streets and traffic bylaw so tickets would not be issued to people sleeping in cars parked on the street when the city’s vacancy rate falls below three per cent. The rate is currently about 0.5 per cent.
But Manak recommended to councillors that the bylaw not be changed.
“I think whether it’s the police or whether it’s bylaw officers, we exercise a tremendous amount of discretion and that discretion is properly applied,” Manak said.
“What I’d like council to consider is it gives you an opportunity to enforce the bylaw because there may be cases where you want to do that.”
Manak said that in the past three years, his officers have often responded to complaints of someone sleeping in a vehicle, but have issued no tickets.
“What we did, though, is we did check on people to make sure they are safe, to make sure they are OK. Because a lot of times, it wasn’t just a complaint that there was someone outside sleeping, it was a concern [about] whether they were actually OK,” Manak said.
Often, Manak said, an officer would let the person stay. In some instances, the individual was asked to move along.
“But again it’s done with care, respect, compassion and applying a lot of discretion.”
Sleeping in vehicles parked on a street is prohibited under the city’s streets and traffic bylaw. Roadways that go through parks are governed by the parks regulation bylaw, which also prohibits sleeping in cars.
Data gathered by Coleman and Helps show the number of tickets issued by bylaw officers for sleeping in vehicles has been increasing. Eighty tickets were issued in 2014, 62 in 2015 and 176 in 2016.
The data show spikes in tickets in February, June, July, October and November.
But in a report to councillors Thursday, city clerk Chris Coates said most of the bylaw enforcement was in relation to unlawfully parked recreational vehicles and campers. Resident owners are not permitted to park RVs on the street overnight in the city.
When dealing with people sleeping in vehicles, the typical approach by enforcement officials is to move them on rather than ticket them, Coates said.
Coun. Ben Isitt proposed an amendment to the streets and traffic bylaw to remove the prohibition against sleeping in vehicles. It failed, as it wasn’t seconded.
Helps said she wanted more time to examine the issue.
“I’m not going to drop this. I just want time to look at it, given the new information,” she said.