Crime rates have decreased in Victoria over the last decade, yet our city remains one of the most policed cities in Canada. The Victoria Police Department is asking for an increase of $57 million for 2019-2020 (a 6.1 per cent increase over last year). This translates to policing as 24 per cent of the draft budget, while only 0.15 per cent is dedicated to affordable housing.
VicPD is asking for this increase to assign more officers to outreach and social service positions. However, policing is not an appropriate approach to address complex health and social issues such as homelessness, substance use and mental health.
Research shows that increased policing does not lead to positive social and health outcomes for marginalized communities. In fact, social issues such as homelessness and substance use are made worse, not better, by policing and criminalization of already disadvantaged groups. For example, police presence often deters people from calling 911 in case of an overdose. Best practices for mental health and substance use services do not include policing.
As a community organizer who has worked directly with people who experience homelessness and those who use substances, I have witnessed the harms of policing and criminalization on these marginalized communities and I urge the city of Victoria to divest from policing and invest in real community solutions that address the root causes of these important social issues.