Chief says Saanich officers don't feel safe because of lack of 'bodies responding to calls'

Police don't feel safe

Saanich’s chief of police says the department’s resources are at a “tipping point,” resulting in more operational-stress injuries, burnout, poor morale and staff seeking opportunities elsewhere.

“The current organizational health status at the Saanich police department right now is critical, and I’m very concerned,” Chief Dean Duthie told Saanich council Monday in making the case for a 9.7 per cent increase in the police budget next year.

Duthie noted there have been a number of early retirements and 10 resignations since six police officers were shot outside a Shelbourne Street bank when two heavily armed brothers staged a robbery in the summer of 2022.

Two Saanich officers and a Victoria officer have yet to return to work after being injured that day.

“We were all shaken by a catastrophic event that happened right here in our municipality, and we’d be irresponsible to think that that’s a one-time event that won’t happen again,” Duthie said.

The department is asking for new patrol officers and additional civilian resources as part of its provisional budget.

The request is for $47.1 million for the department budget next year, a $4.2 million increase over 2023.

Police board chair and Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock said the force is dealing with increasing calls that involve mental health crises and drug addiction in a municipality that is poised for growth.

The department’s patrol staffing levels are the same as they were in 2016. There are 166 sworn officers, though the department often operates with just minimum staffing levels of six to eight constables on a shift.

“That’s six constables patrolling the largest municipality on Vancouver Island that is growing and becoming busier,” Duthie said. “The need to increase is significant. Our officers are feeling safety issues on the road because of lack of strength and bodies responding to calls.”

Duthie said the five-year average of case files between 2012-2016 and 2017-2021 increased 13.6 per cent.

The budget increase reflects a $2.1 million increase in wages and benefits, increased operating expenses and fleet maintenance that will cost $486,504 more than last year, an $827,460 increase in the E-Comm levy and $626,560 for 10 new staff.

The new staffing resources include four patrol officers, two special investigations section constables and four civilian support staff.

Saanich council voted unanimously to accept the provisional budget for information to guide its budget deliberations in the new year.

More BC News