Oak Bay police bill for 135 hours of OT during COVID-19 outbreak

Oak Bay police billed taxpayers for 135 hours of overtime in March to replace officers who were quarantined due to travel abroad or because they developed COVID-19-like symptoms.

The department created a new COVID-19-related overtime category in March, according to the agenda for today’s police board meeting.

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Deputy Chief Ray Bernoties said two officers had to quarantine for 14 days after they returned from international vacations, which is required by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Bernoties also had to quarantine after a trip abroad, but was not replaced during that time, as he took holidays and then worked from home.

Two officers were isolated after experiencing symptoms, but returned to work when they tested negative for the virus.

An additional 227 overtime hours were billed for March due to sick relief and “shift coverage,” which Bernoties said can include vacancies due to injuries or officers on annual leave or courses.

The 363 overtime hours in March put the department’s overtime expenses at $44,775 for the first three months of 2020, $12,600 more than the same period last year.

Bernoties said that level of overtime is not unusual. “We have members with on-duty injuries, personal sickness, et cetera,” he said in an email. “The number required to backfill waxes and wanes throughout the year.”

No COVID-19 related overtime was billed in April. There were 47 overtime hours, including 42 for shift coverage, in April.

Oak Bay police is staffed by 23 full-time police officers and four civilian staff.

Victoria police and Central Saanich police reported no increase in overtime due to COVID-19.

Saanich police spokesman Const. Markus Anastasiades said some officers had to isolate for 14 days after returning from out-of-country travel, although it did not spark a spike in overtime costs.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch, who is also chairman of the police board, said he’s not surprised by the overtime costs, which can be managed through the municipality’s contingency fund.

“I think it’s a reality we’re going to be facing some additional costs this year, not just for this one particular case but overall,” Murdoch said.

With Premier John Horgan urging people to stay home when they’re sick, Murdoch said, it’s inevitable that emergency services and workplaces will face a staffing crunch.

“We have a fair bit of contingency right now for COVID-19 overall and this just forms part of that.”

Stan Bartlett, chairman of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said Oak Bay residents are already facing a major tax increase of 6.9 per cent for the 2020 budget, so he suspects the overtime expense “will be put under the magnifying glass” by the police board and council.

Bartlett said with many families facing financial pressure due to COVID-19, municipal expenses must be vigorously scrutinized.

“It’s a big bill [for overtime] and some people will be unhappy about that,” he said.

Oak Bay police reported fewer calls for service between March 1 and May 11, with 843 calls compared to 998 for the same period last year. Thefts from vehicles more than doubled, with 49 thefts this year compared with 20 for the same period in 2019.

Not surprisingly, the number of homes checked for vacationing residents dropped to seven between March 1 to May 11, down from 61 checks in the same period last year.

Domestic disputes went up to eight calls between March 1 and May 11, compared to just two the year before. There was one commercial break-in and four residential break-ins in that period compared to six for each type of break-in for the same period in 2019.

There were no sexual assaults, compared to three sexual assaults March 1 to May 11, 2019.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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