As budget talks get underway and after Victoria got a taste of police running more foot patrols downtown over the summer, there’s lots of interest from city hall to see officers out of their vehicles more often.
Speaking with a representative from the police board on Sept. 14, councillors went around the table saying what they’d like Victoria police to focus on in its upcoming budget. The councillor requests were dominated by pleas for making foot patrols a more regular part of local policing.
As this paper reported last month, VicPD doesn’t have foot patrols permanently baked into its budgeted day-to-day operations.
Instead, the department has officers out of cruisers from time to time when call volumes allow, it’s in the midst of a two-year restructuring initiative that will aim to run proactive foot patrols when possible and summer pilots saw officers walking the beat to interact with people and businesses downtown.
“We hear loud and clear, from our communities and from this council, the importance of having police visibility downtown,” VicPD Chief Del Manak said during a quarterly update to council this month.
The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board is also set to discuss this paper’s foot patrol story at its Tuesday night (Sept. 19) meeting.
Coun. Jeremy Caradonna was one of the councillors calling for fewer officers in cruisers as he wants to see more of the connections that his grandfather, uncle and another relative did while serving as beat cops in New York.
“Intergenerationally they built a relationship with the people of midtown Manhattan in their couple of square blocks and every single resident knew who they were, every small business loved them, could count on them, criminals feared them and that’s the kind of community-based policing I’d like to see,” he said.
Coun. Dave Thompson called for the re-establishment of budgeted foot and bike patrols downtown, saying it was his number-one priority. That was echoed by Coun. Krista Loughton, who said she heard a lot of good feedback about the summer’s Downtown Connect pilot and people were supportive of the foot patrols.
“They like the relationships that are created between businesses and also people experiencing homelessness, it’s working well and I’d like to see that continued,” Loughton said.
Coun. Stephen Hammond said he’d like to see the continued presence of the officers out of their vehicles, on foot and going around to different merchants, while Coun. Marg Gardiner said the increased visibility downtown was great.
“I saw police very often and very casually, which was very relaxing – when you see a policeman walking in a casual way as opposed to off to emergency, it really calms everything around them – so I think the foot patrols are very important,” Gardiner said.
Coun. Matt Dell also agreed with having more officers on foot downtown and hoped they would also be able to connect people on the streets with shelter, addiction and other supports.
“That will go a long way if they’re equipped with those tools to make sure we’re addressing the social issues downtown in addition to crime,” he said.
Mayor Marianne Alto and Coun. Susan Kim requested that any approach to make officers more visible be balanced with acknowledging how not everyone is comforted by the sight of the police. The two cited newcomers who may have different experiences with police or authority officials.