Victoria council to explore new policing model for mental health calls
VICTORIA -- Victoria Coun. Sarah Potts is proposing the creation of a civilian organization to handle addiction and mental health issues in the city, rather than the police.
Potts, along with councillors Marianne Alto and Jeremey Loveday, has introduced a motion that will be voted on by council on Thursday.
She says that amidst global protests against systemic racism and police violence – along with the record-high drug overdose deaths in the province last month – public support for a change to policing is high.
"We know that something isn't quite working with the way we're responding," Potts says. "We're spending and spending and spending, but the challenges in our society continue to escalate."
Mayor Lisa Helps says she supports the plan to look at introducing a civilian team that relies on medical and social-work professionals to respond to mental health or addictions-related complaints.
"The best and highest use of police resources isn't to be responding when people are having a mental health crisis," Helps says.
The plan for a civilian agency working to help police by responding to mental health calls was inspired by the policing model in Eugene, OR, where a so-called CAHOOTS unit has been in operation for 30 years.
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis tells CTV News the model has been effective at diffusing conflict in the right cases.
"We don't need a uniformed police officer to respond and it's a softer, gentler approach to crisis to be responding with a medical, personal and social worker," she says.
San Francisco is also planning to incorporate a similar approach to make sure police are not responding to calls that don't involve violence.
Victoria police Chief Del Manak says he would welcome the added support but cautions many mental health calls would still require a police presence.
"There are many calls we are responding to currently which involve a high risk of violence that any civilian-led team, including the team in Oregon doesn’t respond to," Manak says.
It remains to be seen how the team would be funded if it's ultimately established – whether through the police budget or other funding.
Victoria's mayor warns there's not much additional funding to go around after COVID-19.
"[This] is going to be a very difficult financial year for cities across the country, including Victoria," Helps says.
The motion to ask staff to explore an alternative policing model, similar to the one used in Eugene, is expected to pass when council votes Thursday.