Police Chief Del Manak is asking the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board for support in pursuing a partnership with Island Health for civilian-led response teams. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria chief seeks support to explore civilian-led teams for ‘low risk’ mental health calls

City council passes motion recommending ban on street checks by police

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak is hoping a purposed civilian-led mental health team would help divert “low risk” mental health calls from the police.

A motion Manak put forward to the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board on Tuesday, July 14 asks for the board’s support in pursuing a partnership with Island Health to create the teams. A 90-day task force would evaluate the need and potential for civilian-involved mobile crisis intervention services and report its findings back to the board no later than September.

Manak says that due to the elimination of other services, the only place left for people to call on weekends and after hours is the police. He says that while the civilian-led team would respond, it would also have access to police back up if needed.

READ ALSO: Police board requests racial, gender analysis of Victoria police force

“There’s going to be cases where the call got miscategorized and there actually is a higher level of violence and the team attends, they withdraw and it’s going to be a police call,” he says, adding that a lot of the narratives he’s heard lately are not “based in evidence.”

“There are still a percentage of calls that involve risk. They involve violence, or the potential risk of violence and in those cases the only response is going to be the police,” he says. “It could be police with mental health professionals, but it’s going to involve the police because only the police have the training, the tools, the ability to actually apprehend people under the Mental Health Act.”

READ ALSO: Motion to consider alternative responses to policing social issues coming to Victoria council

As protests erupted around the world following the death of George Floyd, calls to defund the police became a rallying cry but Manak says VicPD is “underfunded” and projects such as a civilian-led team should not be funded at the expense of the police.

“We need to look collectively as a community, what role our police is having in the community and we need to be able to fund the other complexities that we have in policing,” he says, adding that cybercrime is an area he would like more funding for.

On July 16, Victoria council unanimously passed a motion calling on VicPD to ban street checks.

Manak issued a statement that VicPD does not support “random or arbitrary stops of any kind,” but that he did support officers “initiating conversations with individuals in the community where there is a reasonable and unbiased reason to do so.”

He pointed to data from 2017 that found 10 per cent of people checked where Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC) and that according to data from Statistics Canada 18 per cent of the population in VicPD’s jurisdiction is BIPOC.

Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow responded to Manak’s statement on Twitter, pointing out the report where the information came from also states that the data is flawed and calls for a “better report.”


 

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