The number of shifts lost at the Victoria Police Department – officers and civilian staff being unavailable to work – is trending dramatically upward.
The department lost 1,051 shifts in 2018, a number that more than doubled in 2019 to 2,612. Recently released figures show the total grew again in 2020 to 3,361 shifts lost.
The situation is of concern to Chief Const. Del Manak, as it affects his ability to have a fully functioning and effective police force. But he also sees the rising numbers as a positive sign that VicPD officers and staff are taking care of their mental and physical health more proactively than ever.
“When we saw the [numbers] increasing, we hoped it would be a short-term trend. Maybe we were naive, but we believe now that this is the new normal,” said Manak, who took over as chief in 2017.
He sees department culture changing, from one where members were reluctant to, and often discouraged from, taking personal health days off, toward one in which individual health and wellness is seen as critical to job performance.
Manak said he made a commitment when he became chief to focus on the health of officers and civilian staff, even at a time when caseloads per officer continued to grow and the expectation to maintain response times was still there.
Managing the daily stressors of the job can be challenging enough, but for officers, unexpected trauma can be lurking just around the corner.
“It’s one thing to go to a call, but you don’t just leave and go to the next one, there’s a whole lot of administrative work that goes on behind the scenes. Or it could be going from a domestic violence call to a stabbing to a drowning. All those things add up and affect the mental well being of our officers,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the Victoria and Esquimalt police board.
The toll it can take on officers, and even support staff, is great, Manak noted.
That’s why he and other senior department officials have spent time searching for solutions. They’ve teamed up with Wounded Warriors Canada to talk about PTSD, consulted with University of Victoria trauma and counselling expert Tim Black, and Manak has discussed the issue with other police chiefs from across the country.
VicPD earmarked $30,000 in this year’s police budget to search for a program that has achieved results, or even an in-house professional to address issues promptly, Manak said.