The Victoria Police Department’s provisional budget for 2021 does not meet the department’s needs to address the root causes of crime, the police chief says.
The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board is requesting a budget of just over $59 million in 2021, which reflects an increase of 1.5 per cent over last year’s budget. The department reduced an earlier request by nearly $800,000 to meet the expectations of Victoria and Esquimalt councils, which are seeing decreased revenue during the pandemic. The 2020 budget saw an increase of 4.4 per cent over the previous year.
VicPD Chief Del Manak said at a police board meeting Tuesday evening that his department faces significant challenges in responding in a timely manner to calls and the provisional budget does not include resources to improve response time. Manak also said the budget does not allow for the level of proactive police work he would like to see.
“I am somebody who really wants to invest upstream. Look at solutions and the root cause of issues, rather than just look at response and responding to what the outcome is, because that’s not really keeping our community safer,” Manak said.
The police chief said he would like to have officers in schools and create a crime reduction unit that would target prolific offenders.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the police board with Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, said the 1.5 per cent increase strikes a balance between meeting the department’s needs and keeping costs down.
Helps said the police department is under increasing financial pressure because of new provincial requirements for policing that have been introduced without corresponding funding, more mental health calls, and the growing complexity of policing due to cybercrime and new evidence requirements. “That’s why we need to work hard on the alternative response function to take some of the pressure off of police and provide a more appropriate service for people in mental health and addictions crises,” Helps said.
The top factors driving the budget increase are pay and benefits increases, overtime costs, and software licensing to upgrade Microsoft Office.
The police board said they’ve adjusted wage hikes to take a conservative approach in response to the financial constraints posed by COVID-19.
The department is seeing a rise in workplace injuries, both physical and mental, that keep officers off work and lead to increased overtime hours to meet minimum shift requirements by calling in other officers, said board comptroller Steve Hurcombe.
“I ran the first eight months of this year. We were up 48 per cent over this time last year already. So, we’re seeing a lot more injuries, and a lot more frequent injuries, a lot more longer-term injuries,” Hurcombe said.
About half of the nearly 40,000 overtime hours logged in 2019 were to meet minimum shift requirements or staff statutory holidays. Overtime costs have also risen due to protests that block roads and bridges, Manak said. The provisional 2021 budget allocates $144,293 more in funding for overtime compared with the 2020 budget.
Manak said the department tries to bring staff back to work as quickly as possible, which may include a shift to administrative duties if an officer isn’t healthy enough to return to patrols, but his officers are experiencing higher levels of stress as a result of the frequency and severity of the emotional trauma they witness on the job. The provisional budget also adds $30,000 for psychological services to promote employee wellness, prevent injuries and accelerate a return to work for injured officers.