The City of Victoria will spend nearly $73,000 to continue to fund police officers backing up bylaw officers as they patrol the city’s homeless encampments.
The city has been funding two officers for four hours a day, seven days a week in a support role for the bylaw staff since the fall. The new funding, which does not come from the existing police budget, will extend that support to March 31, when the city is aiming to have enough housing spaces to decamp the parks.
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak brought the funding appeal to council Thursday, where he made the case that bylaw officers are being increasingly threatened by some people living in the camp.
Council heard that there are several parks that bylaw officers refuse to attend unsupported.
“They’re challenged by individuals who are confrontational, aggressive, they’re in their face,” Manak told Global News, Friday.
“We’ve had bylaw officers assaulted, a number of bylaw officers have been chased.”
Incidents of conflict were on the rise, according to Manak, and police have recovered weapons from replica guns to a baseball bat embedded with razor blades and nails from the camps.
That presents a threatening environment for bylaw staff, whose role includes both checking on campers well-being and enforcing safety orders around things like fire hazards.
If bylaw officers can’t do that job, he said, then other city workers from parks staff to sanitation also can’t do theirs.
“It actually has a trickle-down effect,” he said.
“Bylaw staff need to be able to do their job, they need to be effective in what they do.”
Ben Isitt, the lone Victoria councillor to vote against the funding, asked Manak why police couldn’t simply support bylaw officers on an as-needed basis.
Manak said police resources were already stretched, and that making bylaw call for help every time there was a problem would leave them idle and waiting while police responded.
“In a world where we had unlimited resources I could support this,” Isitt said, arguing that the city, province and federal government had already dedicated significant funding to the homelessness issue.
“I think having bylaw staff be able to call on police when necessary, rather than as a matter of routine, is I think preferable.”
Council voted eight to one to support the additional funding.
-With files from Kylie Stanton