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COVID crisis has Victoria police invoking ‘tsunami clause’ for first time ever

City using extraordinary powers to redeploy officers with more than 50 off work for various reasons
Victoria Police Department headquarters. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Victoria Police Department is preparing to redeploy officers to the frontlines, enacting a never used before contract clause as a critical officer shortage is anticipated during this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Section 11 (1) of VicPD’s collective agreement with the Victoria City Police Union has never been used in Staff Sgt. Matt Waterman’s 30 years with the department, the union spokesperson said. “This has always been put as the earthquake or tsunami article of the collective agreement.”

The clause allows the chief to extend or shrink the shift lengths of officers by up to eight hours to cope with emergency circumstances and allows for officers to be temporarily reassigned to frontline policing – patrol division – duties.

This shift is being made to ensure VicPD is able to continue to meet its public safety mandate, the department said in a release. Further redeployments will be made as needed.

The department warned officers to prepare for redeployment after province health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned Tuesday that a third of employees in B.C. could imminently become too sick to work and that businesses should devise contingency plans for staff shortages.

“The government has said, ‘expect a portion of your workforce to be affected by this (Omicron) variant,’” Waterman said. “That doesn’t exclude the police department.”

READ ALSO: Provinces announce new measures as Omicron fuels rise in COVID cases, hospitalizations

Police officers aren’t excluded from burnout associated with extended shifts either, he continued.

“Nobody wants to have their work rotation changed on short notice,” but VicPD was short-staffed prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant, Waterman said. The two issues have compounded, “and that’s a reality we’re having to deal with now.”

VicPD has more than 50 officers already off work primarily due to injury, as well as for training or administrative purposes, the department noted in a statement.

Waterman added, “the (department) management or the union will make sure there’s essentially zero or little effect on the public.”

READ ALSO: Man stabbed in head in Victoria, accused attacker arrested

The clause came into effect Thursday morning following a meeting between Chief Const. Del Manak and police union representatives, and will be assessed on a weekly basis, Waterman said.

Without invoking the collective agreement section, extending shifts to compensate for sick officers would involve overtime and additional costs to the department.

“Maintaining the continuity of police operations during this global pandemic is critical,” Manak said in a statement. “I am extremely grateful to our officers who are adjusting their shifts and schedules to serve on the frontlines, ensuring that citizens of Victoria and Esquimalt know that when they call 911, a uniformed officer will respond to their call for help.”

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