Victoria police chief calls for more funding as crime spikes
VICTORIA -- Victoria’s top cop is demanding more funding to keep up with an increase in crime during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially near homeless encampments that continue to expand across the city.
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak tells CTV News Vancouver Island that he has re-dedicated a tremendous amount of resources to the north end of the city where Topaz Park has turned into an outdoor homeless shelter.
“We’ve got people peering inside people’s homes, anything that isn’t bolted or locked away has gone missing and stolen,” said Manak.
“There is a tremendous amount of anxiety in the community and around Topaz Park.”
Meanwhile, Pandora Avenue is lined with tents squished together, some of which almost spill onto the road.
“The Pandora corridor has now spread not just to the 900-blocks, but to blocks on either end of the 900-blocks,” said Manak.
Topaz Park currently has roughly 200 homeless people camping in its boundaries. Tents are also encroaching on the borders of the park and many neighbours in the area have expressed fears over feeling not safe.
On Saturday morning, Victoria police responded to a call of a fight at the encampment where one individual allegedly pulled out a handgun.
“That is not acceptable in any community,” said Manak.
CTV News has confirmed that on Friday, a 37-year-old man living at the homeless camp on Pandora Avenue died.
“We are in the early stages of the investigation to determine the cause of death and have no further information to share at this time,” said the BC Coroners Service.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has responded by saying she is also concerned about the state of Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue, and said that the encampment was a temporary housing solution.
“There is no doubt about it, it is not a good situation to have more than 200 people with very high health needs and mental health needs and poverty challenges, concentrated in one place,” she said.
Helps said council has issued a letter to the provincial government asking for B.C. to commandeer motels and hotels to house homeless people.
“Anything to get people inside with the proper supports, that is what will solve the problems in the neighbourhood,” said Helps.
Manak does not believe having homeless people living outdoors in parks is a suitable solution right now.
“I am actually going to be going to the City of Victoria asking for additional funding so I can deploy officers, similar to what we did with tent city,” he said.
Helps said she shares concerns with Manak and wants to move people inside as soon as possible.
“Everybody that is working on this wants to do the right thing, which is in a public health emergency having nobody living outside,” said Helps.
Elsewhere, Saanich Police have seen a 60 per cent increase in property crime near Blanshard Street and Tolmie Avenue since March 13.
Saanich Police Cst. Markus Anastasiades said the most significant increases are commercial break-ins and thefts from vehicles.
“Police are out there protecting against crime,” he said. “We are also encouraging everyone to take some steps to help fight this trend.”
Business owners who have closed their stores are being asked to check on their businesses to deter thieves and make sure security systems are working.