British Columbia

Rising crime rate strains Victoria police force

Acting Victoria police chief Del Manak says, despite increased crime, the capital remains a safe city.

Offences increase nearly 20 per cent over 2 years

Acting Victoria police chief Del Manak says the concentration of liquor seats and licensed establishments in the downtown core add to the force's challenges. (Twitter)

Victoria's police chief is pointing to sharply increased crime rates in response to what he calls perceptions that the city is over policed.

Still, acting chief Del Manak insists Victoria remains a very safe city.

Manak laid out details of the city's shifting crime picture in a presentation to Victoria city councillors.

The city's crime rate tracked sharply upwards by 10.5 per cent in 2014 and 8.8 per cent in 2015 after more than a dozen years of steady decline, according to Statistics Canada.

 The same trend occurred across Canada as well, but Victoria's increase was among the highest.

The number of crimes per population was 54 per cent higher in the city than the average for B.C, police departments.

Acting Victoria police chief Del Manak (left) at announcement of the seizure of 1.45 kilograms of fentanyl en route from China. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

"The way the police departments are structured here in the Capital Regional District … you have one smaller police agency that is usually left to do the lion's share of the work when it comes to homelessness, mental health, street order issues," Manak told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Manak said extra challenges of policing in Victoria include a high concentration of liquor seats in clubs and bars, as well as three halfway houses for released prisoners.

"The challenge that we see in Victoria many times is … the number of high-risk offenders that are in our communities that have to be managed and that we have to oversee," he said.

He said the halfway houses aren't to blame for the high crime rate but do require significant police resources for curfew checks and making sure that people are following their conditions of release.

Taxpayer group questions cost

A local taxpayers advocacy group is calling for closer municipal government scrutiny of police budgets across 11 Greater Victoria municipalities which increased dramatically even as crime rates fell.

An analysis of crime rates and police spending for the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria concluded that despite increased crime rates since 2014 the rates remain far lower than they were in 2007.

Yet, regional police budgets have increased above the inflation rate from 18 to 79 per cent in the same time period.

"It behooves councils to take a really close look at those budget requests," the group's vice-chairman, John Treleaven said.

However, he acknowledged the increase in Victoria police spending might be more justifiable than other municipalities because of the challenges in the city core and the Township of Esquimalt (which is also policed by the Victoria Police Department).

Targeting chronic offenders, 'hot spots'

Manak said the force is making the most of existing resources by targeting high crime hot spots and chronic offenders.

Meanwhile, he said he hopes an efficiency review of the police force, due at the end of March, will identify ways to deploy existing staff more effectively — or make the case for more.

With files from On the Island.