Victoria's chief constable says budget restraints and staff shortages are forcing his department to prioritize how, when and if it will respond to calls for help from the public.
Del Manak said Wednesday the Victoria Police Department plans to transform its service priorities after Victoria and Esquimalt councils couldn't be convinced to increase the police budget.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps saluted the chief's comments, saying cost pressures are a reality across Canada and the department's efforts to reform its delivery of services could become a model for other police forces.
“If you talk to any police chief in this country they would say we don't have enough staff and we don't have enough resources,” she said. “That is a fact of policing in Canada in the 21st Century, without a doubt. I think the importance of this report is what kinds of outcomes do we want police agencies to achieve.”
The Victoria and Esquimalt police board released a report Wednesday outlining plans by the police department to transform its delivery of services and deployment of resources to meet the statutory duties of protecting life and property and enforcing the law in the two communities.
Manak said major crimes like homicides, assaults and robberies will still receive top priority attention but patrols of local parks, responses to neighbourhood issues and answering after hours animal control complaints could face delays.
“There's no doubt there are going to be significant changes in our response capacity and in the ability for us to actually focus and respond to the calls we actually ought to respond to,” the chief said at a news conference.
Manak said one of his officers told him some non-emergency calls by citizens already go unanswered for days and the chief added that situation is not likely to improve under the changes.
He said the department is considering adjusting current patrol units, appointing special constables, who don't carry guns, to respond to lower priority calls and eliminating police liaison officers at local schools.
“I'm unable to meet the need of our communities in the model we currently have, so the fiscal realities and the staffing shortages have basically forced us to look internally at how we're going to be able to carry on and sustain credible, effective responsive policing in the 21st Century,” he said.
The department's full complement of officers is 249, but due to injuries and job-related leaves only 208 officers are currently on regular duty, Manak said.
Helps, who is co-chairwoman of the police board, said Victoria needs a new approach to providing police services in times of tight budgets and fewer officers and the transformation report is a move in that direction.
When asked if the residents of Victoria and Esquimalt would be safe under the transformation plan, Helps directed the question to the chief.
“His job is to ensure adequate and effective policing in our communities.”