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Victoria police offer $20,000 hiring bonus, seek 12 new experienced officers

Department says it is in urgent need of more frontline officers
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Victoria Police Chief Del Manak: "While Victoria is a beautiful place to live and work, it is also one of the most expensive places in Canada to live." DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria police are offering a one-time $20,000 hiring incentive to attract “the best police officers from across Canada” to deal with critical shortages on the front lines.

The department wants to hire 12 experienced police officers to work in patrol and respond to 911 calls. Currently, about 35 of its 249 officers are unable to work on the front lines, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said Tuesday.

“We need officers now,” said Manak. “We are serious about getting experienced officers hired at the earliest possible opportunity. It will be faster than having recruits going to the police academy, which takes eight or nine months before they’re actually deployed.”

The chief knows he doesn’t have to sell people on the advantages of living in Victoria or elsewhere on southern Vancouver Island, even though it’s one of the most expensive places to live in Canada. Manak hopes the $20,000 bonus will give anyone who has thought of moving here or wants a career change the incentive to apply now.

“We thought $20,000 would get people’s attention. If they are considering relocating, that amount would be sufficient. We felt anything short of that might not be competitive,” said the chief.

Currently, the department is covering its staffing shortages by paying officers overtime on their days off, said Manak, but some of those officers are showing signs of burnout and are no longer accepting the overtime shifts.

“I’m at a critical stage when I need to make an investment in the future of our officers to have them here for 10 to 15 to 20 years and pay them up front and have their services in the long term,” said Manak.

The selection process will ensure the officers are community-minded and a good fit for Victoria, he said. The department is looking for officers with anywhere from two to 25 years of experience.

The hiring incentive also includes an additional week of holiday for officers and staff who reach out to friends and colleagues and recommend a successful hire.

Manak said he knows the incentive will have a ripple effect in police departments across B.C. and Canada, but stressed it’s a competitive job market for experienced police officers.

“I think other police leaders will be watching closely what’s happening at Victoria police, but we wanted to take this bold step because we are so critically short on the front lines.”

Saanich police has not experienced the same challenges as Victoria, and has no plans to introduce a hiring bonus, said spokesman Const. Markus Anastasiades. Saanich has a long history of hiring recruits to fill anticipated vacancies and hiring experienced officers from other jurisdictions for unanticipated vacancies, and remains confident it will continue to attract quality applicants, he said.

The department is not worried that a hiring bonus might induce Saanich officers to leave for the VicPD, Anastasiades said.

Saanich has a similar referral process to the one Victoria is offering, granting 40 hours of leave to a member who refers the successful hire of an experienced officer. The policy has been very successful in recruiting quality candidates from agencies across Canada, Anastasiades said.

Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, thinks the $20,000 hiring incentive will be successful.

“It’s a significant amount of money and it’s enough of an incentive that people will look at it,” he said, adding many police services across the country are struggling with the same staffing challenges.

“Hiring experienced officers is a more effective alternative in addressing an immediate need, so it’s not surprising.”

Hiring incentives are less common in Canada than in the U.S., Stamatakis said. The amount and type of incentives vary depending on how challenged a department is.

“I think anyone who was considering a move anyway, this would certainly incentivize them to make their decision sooner or this might be the tipping point that gets them to make a decision,” said Stamatakis.

“I also think there could be other people working towards the end of their career who may look to Victoria as a good option to finish off their career and retire on the West Coast, which a lot of people like to do.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com