Satirical meme. A black and white photo of a Victoria police officer patting down smeone with their hands out is overlaid with the words "You're not in trouble, I just wanted to let you know about some resources in town #nocopsonoutreach".

Cops are not mental health workers

To: City of Victoria Mayor and Council

Re: City of Victoria Draft Financial Plan and 2018/2019 Budget

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

The Anti-Violence Project (AVP), located at the University of Victoria, provides support, education, and advocacy to end sexualized and gender-based violence. We work with individual survivors, loved ones, and people who have caused harm, as well as addressing broader societal violence including colonization and white supremacy.

As an organization concerned about violence we have for some time been following the VicPD’s efforts to gain funding to expand their reach in health and social service delivery. We note that once again this year VicPD is requesting funding — including additional $13,698 new money (for a total of $253,898) — to continue to embed two additional officers in ACT mental health teams, a pilot expansion that began earlier this year and which City Council identified last year was conditional on a mid-term evaluation to determine whether funding would be further extended. This pilot was initiated without any consultation with ACT clients and to date there has still been no opportunity for Council to hear from ACT clients on how this pilot has impacted them.

AVP feels strongly that an organization with the mandate for law enforcement and surveillance has no place expanding its domain to attempt to do mental health support work. These jobs are incompatible. There are hard working and caring organizations and people who already work and volunteer in this city, providing support for various identities and intersections who experience mental health related issues, and these are the folks who have been doing this work for decades. Not just doing the work but researching, adapting, consulting, and evolving their work so it better suits the needs of its clients. These are the folks with the training, life experience, and community reputation to do the work and this is where funding should go.

Some AVP staff members work other jobs that have interaction with folks whom this funding proposal directly affects. The people who we are trying to ‘help’ are the experts of what they need and who they trust to provide support. When we ask people if they want police on mental health teams they say “no” every time.

When we work with people who have experienced sexualized violence, we believe them. We believe people when they tell us what they need to heal and what violences they have survived. We also believe people when they tell us they do not want to engage with police and have zero trust for them. This is not about whether police officers are good people or not, this is about a systemic violence that often has intergenerational effects. As an organization that focuses on transforming rape culture to a culture premised on consent and care, we strongly object to police being placed in health and social service delivery without clients’ consent, particularly in an ACT team context where clients have been mandated to participate in services and the ACT team controls clients’ access to housing, income assistance, and other survival essentials. This is a fundamental violation of clients’ ability to exercise consent and to be listened to and respected.

More broadly we are concerned that in addition to the ~$775,000 per year that is requested towards VicPD officers on ACT and VICOT, VicPD is again this year requesting significant overall operating budget increase, proposing $2,495,610 new funds to bring the police operating budget to $54 million per year. This follows on years of VicPD operating budget increases that far outpace inflation; if the City grants the requested 2018/19 increase, over the last three years the VicPD operating budget will have increased by a cumulative total of $6,467,771.

To continue to pour so much money into policing is a misalignment with community concerns such as affordable housing and is also misaligned with the City’s own Draft Financial plan which identifies as priorities infrastructure needs, economic development, affordable housing, and active transportation. The proposed police budget consumes far more than any other operating budget category (23% of operating budget); in contrast only $250,000 is proposed for affordable housing (0.1% of operating budget).

We note also that the proposed police budget increase includes $870,000 to enable hiring of six new officers and two new support staff. AVP does not support this expansion. For several years Victoria has been the most intensively policed major city in all of Canada and there is no evidence of increased need for even more police. On the contrary, crime rates have significantly dropped in Victoria (and overall in Canada) over the past 20 years, including a decrease in violent crime. Calls to the VicPD for service have also decreased steadily over the past three years with projected calls for service in 2017 (based on Jan-Nov data) anticipated to be 5% lower than in 2014.

As an anti-violence agency we are actively engaged in the question of how to create communities that are safe and free of violence. In our experience the role of policing is very minimal in addressing public safety and in a society where certain populations are heavily marginalized and criminalized, increased policing means less safety and more harm. We know for example that in the current fentanyl crisis increased surveillance does not make it safer for people to use drugs but rather increases fear, shame, stigma, and secrecy which leads to greater risk of using alone. Similarly the daily police displacement of people who are sheltering outside drives people to hide in secluded areas where help is not readily available. Criminalization of substance use, mental illness, and homelessness causes profound harm.

For all of these reasons, we do not support the continuation of the expanded ACT pilot or the overall expansion of the VicPD budget.


The Anti-Violence Project

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