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Police warn of another spate of youth problems in Victoria

Social media platforms have been rallying points, Victoria police say. Problems have ranged from public intoxication to weapons offences.
Victoria's downtown skyline. TIMES COLONIST

Victoria police are starting to see another surge in youth ­problems downtown.

Deputy Chief Colin Watson, delivering the department’s quarterly update Thursday, told councillors there have been ­indications of another increase in activity.

“Over the last two weekends, we’ve started to see some indications of an increase once again, and we’ve started conversations about what that looks like, what might be contributing to that and any additional proactive steps required to try to interrupt that upward trend, if that’s in fact what’s going on,” he said.

In the spring, police and school officials worked together to deal with concerns about groups of youths causing problems downtown. At the time, the level of youth-related ­violence seen on the streets was deemed “unprecedented” with Victoria police saying most of those involved were under 18.

Police said social media platforms such as Snapchat and TikTok had been the rallying points.

In May, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak acknowledged ­cancelling the school liaison program in 2018 was a mistake. He told city council that ­liaison officers are often the first line of defence in ­preventing ­students from falling into criminal behaviour or ­heading off other crises.

“I regretted cancelling the school liaison program at the time I cancelled it,” he said. “I regretted ­shutting down our crime ­reduction unit, which was targeting prolific property offenders. But I had no choice. We needed officers on our front lines.” The department has been dealing with an ongoing staff shortage.

Thursday, Watson told council the department has put a lot of effort into preventing some of that youth behaviour.

“The work did appear to have a pretty significant positive impact. In the end there were 60 total investigations undertaken and 24 arrests were made, ranging from public intoxication to weapons offenses,” he said. “In the final two weeks of that project, we saw a significant reduction in those challenges that we were experiencing in downtown core.”

Watson also gave an update on the officers involved in the June 28 shootout with robbers at the Bank of Montreal branch on Shelbourne Street. Watson said four of the six officers injured in the exchange of gunfire have now left hospital and are in the process of recovery, while the department expects one more to be released soon and they are waiting on word of the progress of the sixth. “It’s a long road ahead for those members and we’ll continue to support them and the rest of our colleagues as best that we can,” he said.

“This is probably one of the more challenging moments in policing history in our region, and I suspect there’ll be lots of conversation in the weeks and months and years to come with respect to the impact that it’s had on the community, the impact that it’s had on our police agencies and individual police officers,” Watson said.

Watson also touched on a series of random assaults and arsons committed in the last quarter, which the department continues to investigate, and he highlighted a large drug and weapon seizure that netted eight kilograms of drugs, including fentanyl, firearms and $100,000 in cash.

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