Front-desk cuts just the start: Victoria police chief

Victoria police’s decision to eliminate front-desk-service hours on evenings and weekends is just the first of other cuts to come, Police Chief Del Manak has told councillors.

“There will be service cuts, but we’re doing it in a way that is thoughtful and that still provides public safety to the most important calls,” Manak said.

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Despite having approval to hire another six officers, Manak told councillors it’s difficult to fully staff the four patrol watches and to quickly respond to 911 calls because of significant staffing shortages.

“I just feel that as a police organization, if somebody is phoning 911 and their safety is in immediate jeopardy, or somebody is phoning because they see somebody is being assaulted or it’s a domestic situation occurring [where] they can hear on the other side of a wall where somebody is being attacked, we have a responsibility to respond quickly, efficiently and to be able to intervene to protect people,” Manak said

“When I don’t have the ability to do that, that raises serious concerns for me.”

The new front-desk hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. There will be no weekend service. Current hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, all year. VicPD’s Esquimalt division hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday will not change.

VicPD’s authorized strength is now 249 with the additional six officers, who haven’t been hired yet, he said.

Thirty-five officers cannot be deployed to front-line policing for a variety of reasons, ranging from injuries and maternity leave to recruit training, he said.

Manak also reported a significant increase in stress-related injuries, something he calls “the new normal.”

The rise could be the result of increased recognition and reduced stigma associated with mental-health issues, along with more demands and stressors in terms of workload and call types, Manak’s quarterly update to council said.

Police time lost to mental-health-related injuries has increased dramatically: 539.2 shifts lost in 2018 — the equivalent of 2.9 full-time officers — compared with 31.3 shifts lost in 2017.

Councillors in March approved a police budget with a 3.2 per cent overall increase. But unlike for other city departments, council decided the police would have to absorb the $690,000 cost of B.C.’s new employer health tax.

The police board recently came back to city council for more money, asking the city to cover $135,300 in costs for policing special events, including $78,400 for Canada Day, $41,700 for the three officers provided at special events run by non-profits and an estimated $15,200 for policing military-related events.

bcleverley@timesolonist.com

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