Council postpones police request for mental health officers

Victoria city council has postponed its decision regarding the police department’s request to add three new officers.

Victoria city council has postponed its decision regarding the police department’s request to add three new officers to help with mental health and crime issues in the downtown core.

During a Monday meeting, acting Victoria police chief Del Manak made his second plea to add two new police officers as part of a two-year pilot project to divert people suffering from mental health or addictions issues away from the criminal justice system into recovery.

Manak is also seeking funding to add an officer to the community crime watch program.

The two officers would come at a cost of $240,141 for each of the two years, while the crime watch officer would cost $143,675 annually.

However, the price of such officers would result in a property tax increase to residents and businesses — which many councillors found hard to swallow.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the city is behind when it comes to deploying officers to help health authorities with the most vulnerable population, as many major cities across the country are already pouring funding into similar programs.

“We’re at the back of the line . . . We’re not leading here,” she said. “In the middle of the night, no one is going to call a social worker, no one is going to call a cleaner. They’re going to call the police . . . We really need to catch up to every other city in the country.”

Coun. Marianne Alto questioned if a police officer has the right set of skills and training to provide proper intervention.

Coun. Ben Isitt said it is not the city’s responsibility to fund what is a provincial issue and that the acting chief should consider making cuts within the department, instead of coming to the city for more funding.

The additional officers would be a part of the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team in the region, which is comprised of nursing staff, outreach and social workers, a probation officer, a police officer, a Ministry and Social Development worker, who provide support to people living with severe and persistent mental illness.

There is currently one officer serving four ACT teams, dealing with roughly 320 cases. An additional officer was added in July as part of a six-month pilot project and has resulted in more than a dozen referrals in recent months.

The new officers would act in a preventative nature, dealing with outreach and stabilization, and assisting with more violent or extreme members of the public — some of whom other ACT members are hesitant to deal with at times.

Councillors will make a final decision during the Jan. 26 council meeting.