Victoria Police Department Chief Const. Del Manak (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria Police Department Chief Const. Del Manak (Black Press Media file photo)

Skyrocketing number of lost shifts at Victoria police has a positive side, chief says

Chief Const. Del Manak says officers, staff being more proactive looking after their mental health

The number of shifts lost at the Victoria Police Department – officers and civilian staff being unavailable to work – is trending dramatically upward.

The department lost 1,051 shifts in 2018, a number that more than doubled in 2019 to 2,612. Recently released figures show the total grew again in 2020 to 3,361 shifts lost.

The situation is of concern to Chief Const. Del Manak, as it affects his ability to have a fully functioning and effective police force. But he also sees the rising numbers as a positive sign that VicPD officers and staff are taking care of their mental and physical health more proactively than ever.

“When we saw the [numbers] increasing, we hoped it would be a short-term trend. Maybe we were naive, but we believe now that this is the new normal,” said Manak, who took over as chief in 2017.

RELATED STORY: VicPD launches open online platform in effort to be more transparent

He sees department culture changing, from one where members were reluctant to, and often discouraged from, taking personal health days off, toward one in which individual health and wellness is seen as critical to job performance.

Manak said he made a commitment when he became chief to focus on the health of officers and civilian staff, even at a time when caseloads per officer continued to grow and the expectation to maintain response times was still there. “We felt it was important to make sure our staff were healthy and well and fit to do a job that has got quite demanding over the years,” he said.

Managing the daily stressors of the job can be challenging enough, but for officers, unexpected trauma can be lurking just around the corner.

“It’s one thing to go to a call, but you don’t just leave and go to the next one, there’s a whole lot of administrative work that goes on behind the scenes. Or it could be going from a domestic violence call to a stabbing to a drowning. All those things add up and affect the mental well being of our officers,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the Victoria and Esquimalt police board.

Not only is Victoria the region’s epicentre for transitional housing and services for people battling addictions and trying to get back on their feet – such residential facilities are over-represented in police calls, Manak said – mental health and other crisis calls don’t get included in the crime stats, as they often don’t involve a crime.

“We are going to these type of calls in greater frequency than any other department in our region,” he said

The toll it can take on officers, and even support staff, is great, Manak noted.

That’s why he and other senior department officials have spent time searching for solutions. They’ve teamed up with Wounded Warriors Canada to talk about PTSD, consulted with University of Victoria trauma and counselling expert Tim Black, and Manak has discussed the issue with other police chiefs from across the country.

VicPD earmarked $30,000 in this year’s police budget to search for a program that has achieved results, or even an in-house professional to address issues promptly, Manak said.

“Very seldom do we invest upstream, we are so reactive with how we deal with situations and challenges. But investing money upstream saves you money downstream,” he said. “In a perfect world, I would like to say we are on top of this and we’ve nailed it. But it’s a work in progress and I think we’ve made significant improvements in supporting our people.”

Time loss is one of 15 metrics related to the department’s overarching objectives, and one of five measurements used to determine how well VicPD is meeting its goal of “achieving organizational excellence.” The others are case load per officer, deployable officers (to calls in the field), complaints and response time. All can be found online on Open VicPD community dashboard.

ALSO READ: VicPD survey says: overall satisfaction positive, accountability needs work


 

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