Victoria police chief 'shocked' by councillor's question about disbanding police
VICTORIA -- As calls to disband or defund police departments sweep across North America in the wake of the death of a Black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Victoria's police chief says he is shocked the idea would even be raised here.
But it was raised Thursday by Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, who put the question directly to the city's top cop.
"Some of the critique of policing goes so far as to suggest that police departments should be abolished and replaced with alternative structures," Isitt told police Chief Del Manak at Victoria's committee of the whole meeting.
"I wonder if you could speak to that, I guess the wisdom or prospects or feasibility of disbanding VicPD and replacing it with a new structure?" Isitt asked.
"I just can't see that in any sense of reality," Manak responded.
Police reform has become a mainstream issue in the wake of George Floyd's death while in the custody of Minneapolis police last month. That city has since announced its intention to disband its police force outright in favour of a community-led public safety model.
Similar calls have been echoed in Vancouver, where a chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement this week released a list of demands, including the redirection of city funding away from policing and towards social programs.
On Thursday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart called on the B.C. government to conduct a "comprehensive review" of policing in the province.
Manak told CTV News the idea of disbanding the city's police department is "not based in any merit," adding, "I find it shocking that that question would even be asked or it would even be discussed."
The chief praised the actions of VicPD officers, calling them "the best, most professional, competent police officers" and saying he hears praise "every single day" for the work Victoria police do.
"We have to stop and we have to pause and we have to look at what we have here in British Columbia and in Canada and the policing structures that we have," Manak said.
"There's a high level of trust and legitimacy and support for our police officers in the difficult work that we are doing."
To the question of alternative police models, Manak said policing is something everyday residents are not prepared to take on.
"My question is: Who is going to do the work, the challenging work?" the chief said.
"Who is going to take that on? Because I can assure you it's not going to be members of the public when their personal safety is at risk. No matter what level of training they have, they are not going to be able to de-escalate critical situations."
Manak acknowledged there are areas – particularly around engagement with racial minorities – where the Victoria police can improve, but said "the system is not broken" when it comes to policing in the city.
"I was shocked that that question was even asked," Manak said of the councillor's query.
"To just go right to an emotional response and say that we're going to look at collapsing the police department, I just think it's disingenuous and it bears no merit and it shouldn’t even be a part of the discussion."
Isitt did not return a call for comment on the issue Thursday.
The chief said Victoria police officers "want to be better, and they're committed to being better," adding, "but they're also not interested in being insulted and the profession of policing being dressed down and unnecessarily attacked."