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VicPD staffs up, scraps $20K hiring bonus as other departments struggle

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The Victoria Police Department is bidding adieu to a hiring incentive that was introduced to address what the chief called a “critical mass shortage” of officers.

The department is no longer giving experienced police officers a $20,000 hiring bonus. From the end of 2021 through 2023, 18 cops were hired with the incentive.

“Canadian chiefs across the country and many of my colleagues were not happy with me,” Victoria police Chief Del Manak told CTV News in an interview.

“They were asking me how long I was going to have this initiative because they literally were saying, ‘Well, I may have to now offer that.’”

On top of that, Manak said an initial surge of applications petered out.

Of the 18 officers hired, three have resigned, which Manak attributed to “family reasons.” The department said it’s trying to get the money back from one of the officers who left.

'FOLKS WORKING IN POLICING ARE STILL FEELING STRETCHED'

The hiring bonus helped the department get to “a very healthy position” when it comes to staffing, Manak said.

The department is funded for 255 officers and has a budgetary request for three more.

A criminal justice researcher said unlike VicPD, many police departments across Canada are struggling with recruitment and retention.

“The research currently and over the past number of years continues to indicate that folks working in policing are still feeling stretched and that does not seem to be ending,” said Eva Silden, an instructor for Camosun College’s criminal justice program.

The police department in Saanich, which shares a municipal border with Victoria, said applications have declined.

“It’s very challenging right now to recruit and retain employees,” Saanich police spokesperson Sgt. Damian Kowalewich said.

“We are looking and speaking with officers throughout the department to receive feedback on any changes that can be made.”

PUBLIC IMAGE ISSUE 

In recent years, social movements to defund police departments and address police violence have ramped up, particularly after George Floyd was murdered by American cop Derek Chauvin in 2020.

“Young people are very concerned about social justice issues… and so it’s maybe not a surprise that they look at some of the things that they’re seeing around policing and [are] maybe thinking to themselves, ‘This might not be a career for me," Silden said. 

Kowalewich said it has likely affected recruitment.

“It’s certainly fair to say that social movements in North America over the past few years have had an effect on public perception and ensuring that young people take a hard look and a deep consideration into their career choices,” he said.

Retirements and stress leaves have also affected the Saanich Police Department’s numbers, he said.

CHANGING WORKPLACE CULTURE 

While hiring incentives can help with recruitment, Silden said they won’t necessarily help with retention.

“It is no surprise that there is sexism and discrimination and racism and these issues of structural inequality that continue to be part of what… policing leaders are having to deal with,” she said.

In October, six former and current female police officers launched a class action lawsuit against 12 B.C. police departments, alleging discrimination, harassment and bullying on the basis of gender.

“There are opportunities to look a little deeper at making substantial structural changes that will then not only address the public image of policing, but will also attract a greater diversity of folks to policing,” Silden said.

In 2021, an internal VicPD study found many officers and civilian staff described the workplace culture as "toxic" and "micro-managed."

They said the department seemed unconcerned about the toll the job had on their mental health. Many also felt like their input was not taken into consideration by upper management.

Officers want to feel supported by their leaders, said Silden, who has interviewed dozens of B.C. cops during her research.

“[It’s important] that they feel like they’re being heard and their concerns are taken seriously, especially around things like work-life balance,” she said. “That would go a really long way.”

'WE'RE INVESTING IN THEIR WELLNESS'

Manak said his department is responding to feedback from frontline officers, who were carrying the weight of continual vacancies.

The department created smaller teams on patrol, “so people feel valued,” and adjusted shift times.

“So we had more officers working during the busy times and less officers working where traditionally we know that the call volume drops off,” Manak said.

VicPD also hired an in-house psychologist in July.

“When our officers and staff see that we’re investing in their wellness, investing in their development and they have the necessary tools and supports to be successful, that to me is a win for everyone,” Manak said.

“It’s going to lead to an organization that people want to be a part of.”

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