It’s time for Greater Victoria to act or just stop talking when it comes to regional policing. Residents, politicians and police have been debating the issue since the 1940s, but if it doesn’t happen now, with the Pickton report still fresh in everyone’s minds, it will probably never happen.
This week, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins backed a decision by the Victoria police board to create a business case for regional policing in Greater Victoria. The decision follows a call from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson for regionalized policing in Greater Vancouver.
That lands the issue back in the laps of provincial politicians, who still refuse to do anything without consent of all the municipalities affected.
Commissioner Wally Oppal’s report on the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton said a regional police force would likely have caught Pickton more quickly than did the fractured probes by the Vancouver police and the RCMP. Oppal later said regional policing also makes sense for Victoria.
The opponents of regionalization point to high start-up costs, complexities of marrying different systems and cultures, loss of local control over police priorities, siphoning officers downtown, loss of community policing.
The province’s response, even in the face of crimes like the Peter Lee murder-suicide and Pickton’s rampage, has been weak. Ministers have maintained that integration of some units, such as major crimes and domestic violence, is still the way to go. Justice Minister Shirley Bond has consistently refused to impose a regional police system, and after the Pickton report came out, Premier Christy Clark said she is open to a discussion, but noted that many mayors are still opposed.
By saying that everyone, or almost everyone, must agree, Clark and previous premiers have handed veto power to a few mayors. Those suburban mayors have a disproportionate fear of seeing officers funnelled into high-crime downtown areas, while ignoring the fact that a lot of the lawbreakers live in the ’burbs and head downtown to do their crimes.
The opposition NDP has been equally unwilling to impose regional policing against the wishes of the opponents, so even a possible change of government in May is unlikely to change provincial inaction.
The Victoria police board is going ahead with building a business case, which will provide a solid basis for argument for those who think the Pickton and Lee cases appeal only to emotion. With the business case in hand, proponents can take another run at convincing mayors and provincial politicians.
However, if crimes, commissions of inquiry and reports can’t persuade the naysayers, it’s time to admit that parochialism has won this long argument, and we should put it behind us.
Then, we will have to settle for a few integrated police units and hope any future mistakes are small ones.
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