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Victoria council to explore alternatives to police response in mental health cases

Victoria council motion could lead to ‘defunding’ of police
Victoria council motion could lead to 'defunding' of police

Victoria city councillors will vote Thursday on exploring a model for responding to mental health and addictions incidents with less involvement from the police.

The motion, proposed by councillors Sarah Potts, Marianne Alto and Jeremy Loveday, is built on recommendations from Victoria’s Community Wellness Task Force, which was meant to deliver a report this spring, until proceedings were derailed by COVID-19.

“The work of the (task force) has highlighted the disconnect between issues critically experienced by residents and the available means to address them, and that traditional methods of approaching community crisis and challenges are not necessarily reducing harms to the individual or the community, and that in some cases these methods are complicating and increasing harms,” reads the motion.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Defunding the police? In Canada, it’s a fantasy argument

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The task force recommended Victoria research potential alternative response models for mental health and addiction issues.

It also recommended working with the province to establish a new model of policing mental health and addictions issues, and “as the program develops, continually investigate reallocating funding from other departments” involved in the city’s response, including police and bylaw officers.

What is the ‘defund the police movement’
What is the ‘defund the police movement’

“Police have become de facto mental health workers, as more people have ended up having mental health crises, as there aren’t enough supports,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told Global News.

READ MORE: Hamilton to consider calls to defund police despite skepticism from board

“I think this is really an opportunity to look differently about the kind of health care we provide to people whoa re in the middle of an episode. These are health issues, they’re not criminal issues. ”

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The vote comes amid a nationwide conversation on defunding police, a concept that argues funding should be moved from policing agencies to other front-line social services that may be better suited to respond.

Calls growing to defund Toronto Police Service
Calls growing to defund Toronto Police Service

However, Thursday’s motion does not directly propose cutting funding to the Victoria Police Department (VicPD).

Instead, it calls for staff to research alternative response models used in other jurisdictions in time for next fall’s 2021 budget deliberations.

As an example of a successful alternative model, the motion cites the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program active in Eugene Oregon.

READ MORE: Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death reinforces need for major mental health, policing reforms: advocates

CAHOOTS provides mobile crisis intervention services, which are deployed through the traditional 911 dispatch centre.

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Teams are made up of a medic and a crisis worker, who can provide stabilization, assessment, referral and — if necessary — transportation to the next stage of treatment.

In a statement, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said he welcomed the conversation, but that police can not make do with any fewer resources.

“I agree that there is a need to provide additional resources to social services and mental health services,” reads the statement.

“However, this must not come at the expense of police funding, which is already under funded.”