A recent decision by Victoria City Council is having an immediate impact on policing downtown.
In a move made last month, council voted to end the late-night task force program that patrolled bars and clubs.
Every Friday and Saturday night, Victoria Police send four extra officers to the downtown core to try and keep the party crowd under control.
After finding out the funding was cut for this program, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said he feels the rug has been pulled from under his feet.
“This is a no-brainer for me, this is not an optional resource for me, this is a must-have,” said Manak. “If we want to keep people safe in downtown Victoria, in the downtown entertainment district on the weekend, which we primarily see more people out, we need the police to be there in a proactive manner.”
On Feb. 17, the city’s deputy chief manager and chief financial officer, Susanne Thompson, gave council multiple suggestions on ways to reduce costs in the 2023 draft budget.
One of them was to discontinue the late-night program, “which would be a $220,000 reduction to the business and community relations budget,” Thompson said during the meeting.
In the staff report sent to council though, it doesn’t specify what program that $220,000 funds, instead saying it would “reduce the expenditure budget for business and community relations.”
Today, councillors said they misunderstood that police services were included in that recommendation.
“What we didn’t realize, at least I didn’t, is that this $220,000 was designated for a particular item which included police expenditures,” said Councillor Marg Gardiner.
Councillor Matt Dell also tweeted he assumed the late-night program funding was included in the police budget, not the city budget.
Council provided VicPD with a $4.5M increase this year, for a total budget of $68m. This includes $3.6m for overtime. Majority of council assumed the $220k for Late Night Program was covered here, as it should be. I support this program and will work to ensure it is funded. #yyj
— Matt Dell (@mattdellok) March 23, 2023
Gardiner said she has already been in touch with other councillors asking they prepare a motion for consideration at the next council meeting in April.
Bruce Williams from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce also stressed the need for the program.
“It’s important that people feel safe when they’re out at night. The responsibility for safety can’t be out on the backs of businesses that own restaurants and bars,” said Williams.
Manak said it’s unfortunate the way the situation has unfolded but hopes at the next council meeting councillors will rethink their decision.
Until then, the funding for the program is gone, meaning Victoria Police has no choice but to find a way to pay for the task force’s weekly patrols without help from the city.