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With new officers on the way, Victoria police chief optimistic for 2022

Plenty of applications from experienced officers responding to offer of $20,000 hiring incentive
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Last year was an unprecedented year of challenges for the Victoria Police Department that has taken a toll on its officers and morale, says Chief Del Manak.

But Manak is feeling optimistic about 2022, with an influx of new, experienced officers expected to start patrolling the streets in the spring.

“I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a bounce-back year, and a bounce-back year for all of us.”

The department has been dealing with staffing shortages and member burnout, while it has faced increased violence and vitriol on the front lines.

Factor in being a first responder during a housing crisis, opioid crisis, increased homelessness and the ongoing pandemic, and Manak said when he looks at 2021, he doesn’t think things could have gotten much worse.

“Everyone is on edge,” he said.

But with fresh police academy students preparing to join the force in late 2022 and a strong response to a Canada-wide recruiting drive looking for experienced officers, Manak is feeling hopeful.

The department offered a $20,000 hiring incentive to attract officers who could step in immediately to deal with critical shortages on the front lines.

Victoria intends to hire 12 experienced officers to work in patrol and respond to 911 calls.

Manak said the incentive appears to have worked and at this point, they have more than three times the number of applicants they were hoping for.

“What we get to do now is we get to hire the best of the best,” he said, noting they have been fielding calls from across the country as well as from officers serving across B.C. and locally. “Many have extended family here, many are from Victoria originally, but their careers have taken them in other parts of B.C. and Canada.

“This has got their attention and now they want to actually come back home.”

Manak said that influx of new, experienced officers will mean a lot to the department immediately.

“It’s really going to help us, because we’ve been so short-staffed and our resources are so limited right now and our workload is high,” he said.

The plan is to have the new officers on the street within a week of being hired, giving them time to understand the department’s systems and protocols.

Manak said the new officers will be paired with an experienced officer so they get a sense of the dynamics of working in Victoria and get a handle on the way the department works.

The department was also able to hire seven recruits who begin class next week at the Justice Institute of B.C.’s police academy.

Manak said while that’s good news, they won’t see those recruits on the force until late in the year.

More police officers are needed for the front line, he said, noting the department will be asking the city councils of Victoria and Esquimalt for 10 new staff — six police and four civilian — in the 2022 budget. “I’m hopeful that both the councils recognize that there’s a need to invest in public safety. If you do not have safe communities, your residents don’t feel safe.”

Manak said there will be a lot of focus on ensuring existing staff feel supported and have adequate resources to do their jobs.

“I want to focus more internally on our people and not just our police officers, but our civilian staff who have been overburdened with tremendous workload pressures and stresses.”

He also wants to build better relationships with the various communities in Victoria and direct resources to emerging areas of need like cyber crime and new ways of dealing with mental health calls.

A recent study funded by both the police union and senior management that looked into the well-being and mental health of Victoria police officers and civilian staff found the majority describe their workplace as “toxic,” “negative” and “micromanaged.”

Officers identified workload, internal politics, lack of support from councils, the demands of frontline policing and police oversight as the top five ­stressors.

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