Three Victoria police officers were seriously injured on the job in just one week in early September during two separate incidents — and now the police board is speaking out.
“The police officers at VicPD are doing really important work in really challenging times and to see our officers being assaulted it’s just unacceptable,” said board co-chair, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
On Wednesday Helps and her police board co-chair Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins issued a statement offering support and citing the ‘revolving door’ of the criminal justice system and the lack of available supports.
“When somebody is released, they’re just released they don’t necessarily have the help of a case worker, they don’t have a reference to housing they’re just released with whatever challenges they might be having so to me that’s the big gap that needs to be filled,” Helps said.
It’s a concern shared by the police union, which issued a statement Monday in response to the growing number of assaults and a fatal police shooting on Sunday
“Our members are tired of the revolving door at the courthouse,” said spokesperson Matt Waterman. “If some supports are in place for that person maybe we can reduce the times where we need to deal with someone who threatens the public with a knife or a bat or whatever it is.”
But one criminal lawyer says closing those revolving doors altogether isn’t going to help the problem.
“The answer to that is not to hold people in jail, the answer is to provide the services they need so they don’t wind up being arrested in the first place,” said Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan.
Currently people awaiting trial are only kept in custody if there’s a concern they won’t show up in court, or if Crown can prove they are likely to commit further offences.
“What do you do when you arrest a person for shoplifting whose underlying problem is schizophrenia and drug addiction, the answer is not to hold the shoplifter in jail for a number of months then wind up releasing them onto the street no better off than when they started,” Mulligan said.
Helps says it’s a decades-old problem that will take time to fix but solutions to start addressing some of the gaps are coming, as soon as this fall.