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Victoria police chief backs involuntary custodial care for those at risk for harming others

Public confidence in the justice system has to be restored, the chief says
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says he supports ­involuntary custodial care for people ­struggling with substance abuse and mental illness who are at high risk of harming ­others, as recommended by a health researcher and former deputy police chief this week.

“We have to stop kidding ­ourselves. It’s not working.

“When are we going to admit that some people just can’t stop and no amount of hoping is going to change that?” Manak said ­Friday.

“As a police chief, I’ve strongly advocated for enhanced care for addicted and mentally ill people for a number of years. What we need are treatment facilities to respond to the needs and legislation to treat people involuntarily.”

The chief’s comments come in the wake of a report commissioned by B.C.’s attorney general and public safety minister to address concerns about repeat offenders and the increase in random, violent-stranger attacks.

An executive summary and recommendations by health researcher Amanda Butler and former Vancouver deputy police chief Doug LePard were released by the government Wednesday. Their full 150-page report is expected later this month.

Manak said he welcomes the report and its recommendations. “When it comes to involuntary custodial care, we don’t want to have that discussion. We’re afraid of that discussion. … Yet we continue to fail individuals who so desperately need something to help them live their daily lives.”

Involuntary custodial care would only be for the small number of people who continue to fall through the cracks, he said, and should only be considered on a case-by-case basis where mental-health professionals have conducted proper assessments to determine that an individual cannot control their actions and is a significant risk for anti-social, violent behaviour.

Last March, he recalled, a man assaulted two women and spat on a police officer in downtown Victoria while in a delusional state. “At the end of the day, how is justice served to the pregnant woman who was punched on Pandora and the other woman randomly attacked and the police officer spat on during the arrest?” he asked.

Public confidence in the justice system has to be restored, said the chief. “I’m not saying: ‘Throw everyone in jail.’ When criminals are creating fear in our communities, we need to be better as the whole criminal justice system in sending a strong message of deterrence that this will not be tolerated and these behaviours will not be excused.”

The chief said he strongly supports preventative measures to stop people from going into crisis, such as the Assertive Community Treatment teams that touch base with people with severe and persistent mental illness and make sure they are taking their medications.

“In many cases, as a society, we wait for somebody to be in the throes of a mental-health crisis, shirt off, running around the street. … But if we can prevent that individual from going into crisis, we are going to be better as a community and officers will be placed in fewer situations where they are dealing with threats to their safety.”

It’s not fair for nurses, outreach and support workers to deal with violent individuals in supportive housing, he said.

Manak welcomes plans to reinstate the prolific offender management program, something the province has promised to fast-track. He said the program, which ran from 2008 to 2012, was a success. When it was in effect, Victoria police were at the table with corrections and social workers to discuss how each individual offender would fit into the community.

“When people were going to be released on conditions or had finished their sentence, the prolific offender manager group would come together. We actually had a say in discussing each individual case,” said Manak.

Being part of the group allowed Victoria police to voice their concerns around managing high-risk offenders, violent offenders and sex offenders.

“We know they have to go to some community, but we were advocating to make sure our community was kept safe and we were able to manage offenders being released,” said Manak. “You have to be really on top of things. You have to let offenders know that although they are welcome in our community, they have conditions.”

Victoria police tried to make sure they had enough officers to handle the workload of managing repeat offenders, such as dealing with curfew checks and breaches.

“It really did lead to us having a say in who was being released and what was happening. We didn’t get our way every single time because we were one partner at the table, but it allowed for the discussion to occur,” said Manak.

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