Victoria council has approved the Victoria police core budget, as well as funding requests to hire 10 for new positions.
VicPD requested a budget of $63.4 million, about $4 million more than the 2021 budget of $59.2 million.
About $1 million of the budget request is to hire six officers and four civilians. VicPD asked for funding to hire two officers for the Assertive Community Treatment team, which was reduced from three officers to one last summer, two officers who would be part of a co-responder team with Island Health, a cultural liaison officer to build bridges with the Indigenous, Black and people of colour communities, and a sergeant to investigate cybercrime.
The four civilian positions include a records specialist, a data analyst and two front-desk staff. Esquimalt council will also need to approve the budget for it to be finalized.
“While we’re encouraged by Victoria council approving it, we’re going to respect the process and politely decline commenting further,” VicPD said in a statement.
There was disagreement on some new positions. Coun. Sarah Potts suggested reducing the number of officers for co-responder and ACT teams to one each. She said in an interview she thinks investments need to be made instead in health, social work and mental health response.
Potts said she would also have liked to see a position proposed to support officers who are off work for various reasons, including what has been described by a police union survey as a toxic workplace.
She noted police continue to receive increases to the budget year after year and the core budget has not been cut.
Coun. Geoff Young said given the incidents reported to council by police, by residents and in the media, there’s clearly a need for “more reaction” to negative behaviours.
“And I think the majority of council feels we do need the police officers and we need the police officers to support bylaw,” he said.
Councillors also approved $276,000 to fund the hiring of two police officers who would support city bylaw officers to work in areas where they feel their safety is compromised.
Coun. Marianne Alto, who was acting mayor for some of the budget discussions regarding VicPD, noted some positions are to be funded with new assessed revenue, which means they’ll be ongoing positions. Those include the cyber crime sergeant, two front desk clerks and two officers for the ACT teams.
The other positions were approved for funding through the city’s surplus, and will be forwarded to the next council for approval to continue.
Alto said she supported the budget requests because of the extra challenges that COVID-19 has brought for police and because, with the city working on a pilot project for a civilian-led response to mental health crises, the city can turn its attention to providing adequate resources for policing.
The Canadian Mental Health Association continues to work on a pilot project expected to launch within the next three months that would see calls for mental-health crises diverted to first responders with mental-health training rather than police officers.
The CMHA launched a similar program in Greater Vancouver’s North Shore in November, which pairs a mental health professional with a peer worker. The program has responded to 140 calls since starting and has not had to rely on police or the emergency department, said Jonny Morris, CEO of the CMHA’s B.C. branch.
The association hopes to recreate that model in Victoria, Morris said.