'People are arming themselves with shards of glass': Victoria approves more police funding amid COVID-19
VICTORIA -- Update:
The City of Victoria has approved reallocating roughly $52,000 from the city’s “late night, great night” program to the Victoria Police Department to help assist with policing the Topaz Park homeless facility amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program was previously used to fund a VicPD task force that patrolled nightclub and bar areas during the weekend. However, with those businesses closed due to COVID-19, the funding was currently unused.
The reallocation of funding comes after Victoria Police Chief Del Manak called for increased financial assistance due to a rise in crime in the Topaz Park area.
Meanwhile, the city says that up to $100,000 in additional funding may be redirected from the “late night” program for city staff to use to help support vulnerable populations during the health crisis.
The chief says that he is grateful for the extra funding and hopes that officers will be able to help deter crime in the area through increased presence, conflict resolution and communication with campers and facility staff members.
Victoria city council is set to vote on a motion to reallocate funding to the Victoria Police Department amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday.
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak is calling for the funding after crime rates spiked in the region, especially near the Topaz Park homeless shelter.
According to Manak, VicPD has received numerous reports of increased violence and theft at the encampment from multiple groups, including people living in the camp, staff members working at the facility and residents of the surrounding neighbourhood.
Manak told city council Thursday that concerns for safety within the camp have caused some campers to arm themselves with improvised weapons.
“We’re hearing that people are arming themselves with shards of glass, with hammers, with baseball bats in their tents because they fear for their safety or fear for the safety of the property,” he said.
“I’m not going to wait until there is an aggravated assault or a homicide… to increase our support.”
Manak added that staff working at the facility and the Victoria Fire Department have also voiced concerns about the temporary shelter.
“Some of the staff told us they don’t feel safe at times of the day,” he said.
Meanwhile, the police chief says that the fire department is concerned to enter the camp at night to ensure fire safety.
“The deputy fire chief said that their officers have been threatened,” said Manak. “That’s problematic when your own fire department is asking police to escort them at the site.”
Manak has requested that $52,500 be redeployed from the city’s “late night great night” program, which usually funds a police task force to patrol Victoria nightclub and bar areas on the weekend, to increase policing at the encampment for the next five weeks.
As bars and nightclubs have been shut down due to COVID-19, approximately $180,000 remaining in the yearly fund is currently going unused.
Manak added that the police department has absorbed additional costs related to the health crisis, including purchasing personal protective equipment, like masks, for all officers and increasing janitorial services in all police cruisers and holding cells.
“I can tell you unequivocally that we are not able to meet the needs to keep our community safe.”
On Thursday morning, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she was in support of Manak’s request.
“For me this isn’t about policing poor people,” she said. “Over the weekend, doctors and nurses didn’t work on-site because they didn’t feel safe going there.”
“I know that the police can be a traumatizing and stigmatizing presence for people who have been living outside for a long time. Police can be a trigger so this isn’t an easy decision,” said Helps.
“But I don’t know how in good conscience, after hearing everything that we’re hearing,… that we couldn’t approve this allocation.”
Some councillors voiced concerns about the motion specifically calling for enforcement of the Topaz Park area, however.
Coun. Ben Isitt suggested that amendments be made to the motion so that up to roughly $150,000 of the “late night” program can be made available to police, but for general use during the COVID-19 pandemic and not explicitly to target the homeless facility.
Isitt said he held concerns about police creating “fear-mongering of vulnerable populations.”
City council will make a final decision on approval of the funding later Thursday.