Victoria police are asking for a 3.57 per cent budget increase next year largely due to a two-year pilot project for a mental health team.
In a presentation to Victoria and Esquimalt councils last week, police noted most of the budget goes towards salary and benefits, and the increases anticipated are in line with inflation and contract negotiations.
But police chief Frank Elsner also wants two officers dedicated to mental health and substance abuse calls. The project would come at a cost of $250,000 a year. He believes having such a team will decrease costs over time.
“What we found was when we integrate our teams, there’s a bigger advantage and better utilization of our resources,” said Elsner, noting the department currently has one officer who collaborates with about 100 social workers on mental health issues.
“Our front line officers are often called to assist and they don’t have the expertise, training or time to put into that. If we can get specialized officers, it’ll take that work load from the front line.”
According to Elsner, the current officer in the position is embedded with teams of social workers who go out and proactively engage people with significant issues, and assist with getting them the help they need.
The bulk of people police come into contact with are in an acute level of crisis. Some of those people generate repeat calls for service.
If a trained officer is already involved with such people, Elsner said the calls go down dramatically, but the officer currently in the position is overwhelmed.
“She can’t get to all the people she needs to,” said Elsner. “My first reason I want this is I think it’s a better level of service for the people that really need it. That’s my overriding intention.”
Overall, police are asking for $50,629,102 for the 2016 budget, which will be presented to both councils in separate meetings before it’s given final approval. The previous budget was $48,884,183.
Funding is shared between the two municipalities with 85.3 per cent picked up by Victoria and 14.7 per cent by Esquimalt.