Victoria, BC – In recent weeks, it has become apparent that many members of the public are interested in the ongoing discussion regarding the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board’s request for funding for the Victoria Police Department for 2019. The fact that so many people have joined the conversation about the future of their community highlights that most of our citizens care deeply about where they live and what the future holds for Victoria and Esquimalt.
However, it has also become clear that there is some misinformation being shared regarding the role of the Victoria Police Department, the work of our officers, and our Board’s request for resources.
This community update is intended to correct that misinformation and provide additional context so we can all make the best possible decisions about this important topic. Below you will find some of the questions we have received recently along with the facts associated with each.
Has VicPD increased staffing in recent years?
VicPD has not had a single permanent police officer position added since 2010. The two Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) officers added in 2016 are in place on a trial basis and are not permanently funded.
In terms of civilian staff, VicPD added seven civilian positions between 2010 and 2017. These positions provided much-needed support in such areas as information technology, crime analysis, policy, records, disclosure, and Freedom of information. One of the seven positions was funded through the reduction in overtime and auxiliary staff hours meaning that we received new funding for only 6 civilian positions over a 7-year period.
Is it true that VicPD wants to increase staffing?
Yes, VicPD needs to increase staffing in response to growing demands and an increasing population.
For 2019, VicPD asked for an additional 6 police officer positions (4 for the Community Response Unit, 1 Cybercrime officer, and 1 Esquimalt Traffic officer) along with a civilian research analyst.
For 2018, VicPD requested 6 additional police officer positions and 2 civilian staff members. Both Victoria and Esquimalt Councils approved the civilian positions and Victoria Council approved the police positions subject to Esquimalt Council agreeing to pay its portion of the increase. Esquimalt Council declined to fund the six new police positions.
Is it true that VicPD added 4 officers to ACT?
No. In 2016, Councils approved temporary funding to add two police officers to support the ACT, bringing the total number of officers assigned to ACT program to three. Temporary funding for the two additional ACT officers was extended in 2017 following an independent report regarding police involvement in ACT conducted by the University of Victoria. A second, more comprehensive, study looking at police integration with ACT is underway. VicPD is asking for the temporary funding to be extended another year in order for the second study to be completed.
The two additional ACT officers are not permanent positions at this point and funding for the positions has been from the City of Victoria’s surplus funds, not additional taxation.
Has VicPD experienced budget increases over the last few years?
Over the last 8 years (2011 to 2018), VicPD’s operating budget increased by approximately $10.45 million. The bulk of the increases result from inflationary pressures and labour cost increases in the form of wages and benefits. Wage and benefit costs have outpaced inflation for the past several years due in part to public safety (police and fire) labour relations legislation and resulting arbitration decisions elsewhere that influence police wages locally. A scan of police and fire agencies outside of VicPD will show that this trend is consistent across the country and the annual percentage increase for VicPD’s operating budget over the last eight years is in line with the overall increase in the City of Victoria’s operating budget.
Are crime rates tied to police budgets?
VicPD has been clear for some time that police resource decisions must take into account a number of factors, including crime rates, crime severity and other similar crime based measures. What is not captured in crime rates is the gradual evolution of policing from a strict law enforcement focus to a community based policing focus. This evolution is in response to community expectations that ultimately drive what services the public expect from the police, especially when the needs of the community are not met in other ways or through other services. As a progressive police service, and similar to many other police services in Canada, we pride ourselves on our evolution to meet community needs and have added the necessary skillsets to meet these modern expectations. Beyond our proactive approach to meeting expectations, we have responded to legislative changes, changes in case law, and increases in investigative standards and case complexity. We have also added new services and operational capacities to meet new world threats. In all cases, these changes are not discretionary and add to the complexity of police work. We have so far done our best to meet these new challenges without an increase in police officers staffing – but we can’t do this forever. Despite all the outstanding work by our officers and staff, VicPD is providing services in an area that has among the highest crime severity and highest caseloads per officer in the province because of the jurisdictional boundaries of our region.
Are calls for service going up or down?
The number of calls for service that VicPD has received since 2008 is on an upward trend. The graph below shows the number of calls for service by year while the red line indicates the statistical trend line for this period of time.
Why does VicPD sometimes deploy officers to address outdoor sheltering and using drugs in public?
VicPD’s deployment model is determined, in part, by the demands of our citizens. Our officers are often called to respond to incidents that are not criminal in nature, such as someone suffering a mental health crisis. Other examples may include someone sleeping in the doorway of a business or blocking a sidewalk, violating the Trespass Act or a municipal bylaw. Someone consuming drugs in a public space may be violating federal drug possession laws. However, while enforcement action may be available to officers, officers will often deal with the complaint in less formal ways, including the referral of individuals to shelters, harm reduction services or other services. While there may be other ways for the community to respond to some but not all of these situations, in the absence of alternatives, the community calls upon the police to assist. While our role is to enforce the laws and bylaws enacted by Parliament, the Legislative Assembly or municipal councils, we have been entrusted wide discretion on how to exercise this authority. It is a balancing act that the VicPD and its officers take seriously and we believe manage very well.
Beyond reaction to public complaints, VicPD works proactively with local government, public safety partners, the health authority, services provides, and a host of other stakeholder where we are encouraged and expected to be part of a proactive approach to addressing community concerns in a variety of forms. We believe that the vast majority of our citizens want and expect the VicPD to be and active partner in this work and we intend to continue to do so. While some citizens discourage any interaction of police with the marginalized population, most welcome our involvement and appreciate our approach.
Finally, we believe that our officers do a very good job in balancing our enforcement role as partners in community health and safety. Our front-line officers have been thanked by individuals they have saved from fatal overdoses. They have helped people find housing and facilitated their access to much-needed services. They are trained in de-escalation techniques and communication. And they are often the only ones responding to a variety of situations at all hours of the day and night. In fact, under the provincial Mental Health Act, only the police are authorized to “apprehend and immediately take a person to a physician” that is suffering from a mental health crisis and who poses a risk to themselves or others.
Why does VicPD respond to overdose calls?
VicPD is not the primary first responder for overdose calls. Early on, VicPD determined that the overdose crisis was in fact a health crisis, not a criminal one. Paramedics are the primary responders for these types of calls. As one of our common law duties is to protect life and property, we have an obligation to assist in these types of calls when needed, or when our officers are close by.
We are also aware of the myth that police arrest people who are overdosing. On the contrary, our officers have saved lives by administering naloxone to overdose victims. The most recent example of this occurred on January 23rd when a VicPD ACT officer helped save the life of someone overdosing on the street. We continue to work with our partners to protect both those who are experiencing overdoses while targeting those who prey on our most vulnerable citizens.