British Columbia

Police chief, poverty advocate agree time is now to discuss role of police force in Victoria

Victorica Police Chief Del Manak and Douglas King, executive director of People Against Poverty, say the calls for change across America are not falling on deaf ears in B.C.'s capital.

'Mr. Floyd will not have died in vain if we have those discussions,' says Victoria Police Chief Del Manak

Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak says we all have implict bias and he is willing to come to the table with community groups to discuss the current role of the local police and what improvements could be made. (The Canadian Press)

Protesters across North America outraged by the injustice of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, Minn., are calling on municipalities everywhere to defund forces and the chief of police in B.C.'s capital city says those calls are not falling on deaf ears.

"There is work to be done and I think it is important that we come back to the table ... roll up our sleeves and find out how police can better engage with many communities," said Del Manak, chief constable of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Department, on CBC's On The Island Tuesday.

Manak, who said he has been on the receiving end of racism, understands there is a long history of mistrust toward police from racialized communities and police agencies need to be at the table addressing that now.

"I think that Mr. Floyd will not have died in vain if we have those discussions," said Manak of Floyd's death on May 25 after a police officer held his knee on the restrained Black man's neck for nearly nine minutes.

Since then, the majority of city council members in Minneapolis say they support disbanding the city's police department.

Thousands of people gathered at Centennial Square in downtown Victoria Sunday evening for a vigil and peace rally for Black lives. (CHEK News)

On Tuesday, the police board in Victoria and Esquimalt voted to conduct an analysis of the racial and gender composition of the department to help determine where it should focus recruiting.

But Manak said taking money from the police budget would reduce the force's ability to enact positive change.

Instead, he would like to see more services to respond to homelessness, substance use and mental health so that responsibility does not fall solely on officers.

Douglas King, executive director of Victoria's Together Against Poverty Society, also believes police have been mandated with too many duties.

"There are a lot of social illnesses, a lot things we don't need police officers responding to, and it is time to get creative on how we are going to respond to those," King said Monday on CBC's All Points West.

He said police have been given more and more responsibility over the years and it is not appropriate to use a paramilitary organization to respond to calls like someone sleeping in a doorway.

Move money now says advocate

According to 2018 data from the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, one-third of respondents experiencing homelessness in the region identified as Indigenous, despite making up only 4.7 per cent of the broader population.

"We are seeing the next generation stand up and say this system can't continue. The consequences for people of colour have been severe and it is time to take that power back," said King.

The police department received 23 per cent of the city's total budget for 2020.

According to the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, Indigenous people are overrepresented among the city's homeless population. Poverty advocate, Douglas King, says he has heard for years from people living on the streets that the way the local police force deals with them is not working. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

And unlike Manak, King would like to see some of that money taken immediately and re-allocated elsewhere.

"Over time we have given more and more responsibility for the police to handle a lot of the issues we have in our society and I think rightfully people are questioning if we have gone too far," said King.

Manak said he has seen great strides made in his 30 years of police work when it comes to the calibre of officers hired and they play a critical role in responding to incidents of violence and threats to public safety.

"You need that role in society, how widely spread that role is, I think, a discussion we need to have with communities," he said.

While he said discussions have been ongoing for some time between police and community groups, such as the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, the recent eruption of anti-racism sentiment has sparked a personal realization.

"What this has highlighted for me is we need to speed up some of those discussions and perhaps we need to prioritize them a little bit more than I have been up till today," said Manak.

With files from The Canadian Press

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