'It can shut down and collapse units': Victoria's police union says department declared state of emergency due to Omicron
The Victoria Police Department is taking a drastic step and declaring what amounts to a 'state of emergency' due to COVID-19 staffing concerns.
According to the Victoria City Police Union, current and expected staffing shortages from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have forced the department to invoke a rarely used section of its collective agreement.
Section 11(1) gives the department the ability to quickly re-deploy any member of the force to maintain patrol staffing levels for daily 911 calls.
"It can shut down and collapse units to redirect staff to the frontlines," union president, Len Hollingsworth, told CTV News on Thursday.
"It gives (management) latitude to adjust schedules and move members around without consultation."
The department officially told the union about the changes Thursday morning. They come into effect on Monday.
Victoria Police management are falling short of saying this is the declaration of a state of emergency, but language in the collective agreement clearly indicates this is an emergency step.
The collective agreement indicates that the police chief can shift staff members' working hours in emergency situations, "only for the period required to cope with such emergent circumstances," so long as they meet with union officials and employees do not exceed 16 work days in a 28 consecutive day period.
Other requirements under the collective agreement include at least two consecutive days off out of seven consecutive days, or equal time off if two consecutive days cannot be maintained due to "emergent or abnormal circumstances" at a later date.
"The situation is more than likely going to be worse before it gets better," said Victoria Police Chief, Del Manak.
"We need to be predicting that," he said. "We need to be ahead of that – we want to be ahead of that and we want to do everything we can to maintain a level of operational readiness."
Manak would not say how many staff members are currently off due to COVID-19, but says that Omicron has impacted the force.
The president of the police union says not all members agree that the police department faces an emergency, but says existing staffing shortages and looming issues did demand action.
"If there was ever an appropriate time it’s probably this time," said Hollingsworth.
Vancouver Island’s RCMP detachments are also closely watching staffing levels as Omicron causes widespread sickness.
"We are monitoring the situation and tracking any impacts," said RCMP media relations officer, Sgt. Chris Manseau.
"We anticipate that there could be a rise in employees either requiring sick leave or requiring time off due to possible symptoms or exposures."
Mounties say despite concerns, they will shift staffing levels to ensure 911 calls are attended.
The Winnipeg Police Service has already made the move to declare a state of emergency.
On Wednesday, the municipal department said it had 90 active COVID-19 cases, and 170 personnel had booked time off on COVID-19-related leave.
Section 11(1) of the Victoria City Police Union's collective agreement can be read in full below:
11 (1) Notwithstanding anything else contained in the agreement, in the event the Chief
Constable or designate is of the opinion that there exists an emergency affecting
the public, the Chief Constable or designate may advance or retard the posted
hours of work for any member up to eight (8) hours, only for the period required
to cope with such emergent circumstances and provided the following condition
is complied with:
The Chief or designate meets with the Union Officials who are available on
short notice to explain the circumstances and consult on the ramifications of such
In addition, the Chief Constable or designate may vary the days of work and
leave during an emergency as noted above, provided the total days worked, over
a twenty-eight (28) consecutive day period do not exceed sixteen (16), and
(a) where practical, each member shall have not less than two (2) consecutive
days of leave in each seven (7) consecutive day period; and,
(b) where emergent or abnormal circumstances preclude two (2) consecutive
days of leave in any seven (7) consecutive day period the days of leave not
taken as per Article 11 (1 )(a) above shall be taken in time off at a later date.