A motion put forward at Victoria City Council is looking at an alternative response to the policing for issues like mental health and addictions.
It comes after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests across North America and locally that have been calling for changes to policing — following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We are really hearing from the community that they want to see different opportunities, a different way to address our community challenges,” said Victoria city Councillor Sarah Potts, who is heading the motion.
“We know in our current system that Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour, homeless people and poor folks are disproportionately impacted by the issues and we know every tool doesn’t fit every issue.”
The motion can be found here. It asks staff to look at options ahead of 2021 budget talks.
The idea has been partly inspired by what’s called the CAHOOTS model. In parts of Oregon, it’s been used for decades, where instead of police responding to non-criminal issues, like they do now in Victoria, a medic and crisis worker are sent.
Victoria’s mayor says a similar program is needed here but says it needs to be adapted for Victoria’s needs.
“If somebody is having a mental health episode at four o-clock in the morning, right now the only people to call are the police,” said Helps.
“And I think that needs to change, and hopefully that’s what this new model sheds light on.”
The motion also looks to investigate potentially taking funding from places like Bylaw Services and Victoria Police to support the program.
Black Lives Matter demonstrators have been pushing for police reforms, and for defunding and reallocating funds to similar initiatives.
“This motion is not focused on that but it’s starting the conversation,” said Potts.
VicPD’s Chief Del Manak says he is in favour of a similar program to the CAHOOTS model, saying he has been asking for something along the same lines for years.
But he is pushing back on funding cuts, saying his department is underfunded to begin with.
He has also contacted police from the City of Eugene in Oregon about how the program works and says they are still needed to support the program.
“But you look at Eugene Oregon, the police are still responding, in those mental health calls because there is a need for safety and there is a need to deescalate the situations,” said Manak.
“I think when we are having these conversations they need to be thoughtful. we don’t want to make rash decisions.”
He adds that police are the only ones who can enforce the Mental Health Act by force.
Some advocates for reforms to the current policing system say the move is a good first step, but that it’s just the start.
“By their nature of being alternative implies they are not taking centre stage,” said Devi Mucina, program director for UVic’s Indigenous Governance program.
“They are something that we consider on the side, and it seems off to me. We have always taken an alternative approach when it comes to questions of racialized bodies.”
The motion is up for discussion Thursday.