The Victoria Police Department has noticed some changes in trends since COVID-19 came to the Island.
While there’s been an overall drop in calls, said Chief Const. Del Manak, there’s a spike in certain types of issues, including break-ins at closed downtown businesses.
In response, VicPD is trying to be more visible in the downtown area, both during the day and at night, and working with partners and the Downtown Victoria Business Association to up security.
VicPD has also seen a jump in mental health calls, something Manak suspects is linked with the pandemic.
“It could be attributed, though I can’t say for sure, to anxiety and fear in these uncertain times,” he said. “People are out of routine and people are not as social as before.”
Police are also seeing a jump in domestic calls linked to the virus.
“We have responded to more disputes where families are arguing regarding COVID-19,” he said. “For example, one family member is not taking the provincial health officer’s recommendations seriously in terms of social distancing and the other family member is frustrated.”
Since Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry banned gatherings larger than 50 people drop-in centres for the homeless and vulnerable have shut down, and shelters have added limitations to their beds, forcing people who are homeless to pour onto the streets, especially in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue.
So far Manak said it’s too early to say if the “explosion of tents” police are seeing is linked to an increase in crime in the area, though he’s aware that sometimes people living on the streets also fall prey to crime themselves.
One unique aspect police are seeing, however, is an uptick in fraud attempts.
“People are trying to be opportunistic and appeal to the good will of others, and now we’re just starting to see criminals adapt their strategies to try to get donations,” Manak said.
He emphasized that if people get phone calls or emails from people asking for money to support COVID-19 efforts that they should ask questions, confirm who the person is speaking with and to not give out credit card information.
Presently, police do not have any excessive authority over group gatherings, but at any point the provincial health officer can issue a public health order allowing peace officers, such as police, bylaw officers, conservation officers and corrections officers, the power to discipline people partaking in larger gatherings or not adhering to social distancing.
“If that happens we’ll use discretion,” Manak said. “We wouldn’t want to target a family of four out for a walk, but rather people who are in clear defiance of the order.”
So far, however, he said most people understand the importance of social distancing on their own.