As students in Victoria and Esquimalt head back to classes this week, they’ll notice one missing key figure: their school liaison officer.
Back in March, Esquimalt council rejected VicPD’s budget increase petition that would allow them to hire six new officers in order to deal with increased strains on the police force.
Since Esquimalt pays for about 15% of policing costs, the council rejected the petition citing concerns that none of the new officers would be assigned to their municipality.
The unintended consequence is that the police department has had to reassign their school liaison officers back to the front lines in order to respond to the increasing number of 911 calls.
VicPD Chief Del Manak speaks out
Victoria Buzz spoke with VicPD Chief Del Manak, who has himself worked as a school liaison officer in the past, and describes it as “one of the highlights of [his] career”.
“As a result of six officers not being approved, we were put in a position where the Victoria Police Department had to reassign liaison officers to front line duty,” says Manak.
He acknowledges that as a result of this change, there is a significant gap in the level of engagement, and communication that the police have with students, staff, and parents in the community.
Having dedicated and trained police acting as school resource officers means that the police are able to connect directly with students and provide better awareness and safety tips.
“When they’re struggling with conflict, bullying etc., they’re more likely to approach a liaison officer themselves or on behalf of a friend experiencing trouble in personal or school life,” says Manak.
“We’re able to intervene, resolve incidents and proactively help students as a result of that relationship.”
Taking steps to get school liaison officers back
According to the Chief, all three school liaison officers have received letters, notes, and cards from many students and parents about how much they would be missed, after the announcement was made.
Teachers and Principals also rely heavily on advice from liaison officers when it comes to dealing with difficult situations concerning their students – advice that will be much harder to obtain now that the officers are no longer working with their schools.
This is the reaction that Manak and VicPD expected from the general public, so when Esquimalt announced their rejection of the budget increase, the department immediately asked for the petition to be reviewed by the province’s Police Services Division.
The review team tasked with bringing the request to the government has submitted their review in mid-August. The province is now deliberating. They will now decide whether they need more information, or if they can move ahead with mandating the council to approve the six officers for VicPD.
“I’m optimistic that our request for the six officers will be approved and it’ll be done fairly early into the school year,” Manak told Victoria Buzz.
“Should that be the case, then I would be looking to replace those school officers back to their normal positions right away.”
The Victoria Police department has not had a budget increase since 2010.