On-the-job City of Victoria bylaw officers will continue to be accompanied by police officers for morning checks at certain city park encampments, after mayor and council approved temporary funding to March 31.
Reminded by VicPD Chief Const. Del Manak of the verbal attacks and physical threats – at times physical assaults – bylaw officers face regularly, council approved the additional $75,960 during its Feb. 18 meeting. The city’s financial stability reserve will cover the cost as two police officers continue to accompany bylaw officials at park visits between 7 and 11 a.m., seven days a week.
Additional funding was allotted last fall when the problem of unsafe working conditions for bylaw officials came to a head. As it was last fall, the extra funding came from outside VicPD’s regular budget, with Manak making a successful argument that his department’s resources were already used up.
Asked by Coun. Ben Isitt, the lone dissenting vote in the decision, whether this police function could be done on an as-needed basis given the finite municipal resources available, Manak pointed to the potential urgency of situations. He said it’s highly inefficient for bylaw to engage with campers, then have to wait for police if issues arise.
Shannon Perkins, city manager of bylaw services, said there are currently four parks her staff will not go into unless police are there to provide support.
“We evaluate every near miss or safety concern every day,” she said. “We update our hazard risk approach every day and put in strategies to keep our staff safe. We don’t utilize the police unless we need to.”
The safety concerns have been ongoing since sheltering numbers grew in city parks, she said, noting that it has created a “cascading effect for other city staff.”
Manak assured councillors that police accompanying bylaw officers do not go in “heavy handed” to situations, instead working first to de-escalate things if possible. That said, he pointed out how dangerous certain environments can be.
“Just yesterday we seized a baseball bat with nails and razor blades,” he said.
While a few councillors voiced concerns over the “one-time” nature of this and previous special funding requests, the question was posed about what happens come April 1, when the city is scheduled to return to its 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. rule – campers must pack up each morning and leave – for sheltering in city parks.
With some people still likely to be camping in parks despite the city’s March 31 deadline to have campers housed, Coun. Marianne Alto said, she wondered about the impact on staff after that.
Manak said his department does continual operational scans to address where resources are most needed, while city manager Jocelyn Jenkins said she expects there to be more work for bylaw once the rules change in parks.