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Around Town: Surveying the pulse of Esquimalt

Community policing is serious business, but there’s nothing like a little levity to make a discussion of law enforcement as entertaining as it is instructive.

Community policing is serious business, but there’s nothing like a little levity to make a discussion of law enforcement as entertaining as it is instructive.

Victoria police Chief Frank Elsner demonstrated this Wednesday night in Esquimalt council chambers. During his detailed presentation on results of surveys VicPD conducted last year, Elsner explained why he looked a little different.

He had applied some lip balm, not realizing until later that it was his daughter’s acne medication, he confessed, prompting laughter from a crowd of 50.

There were more laughs when someone, poking fun at the cops-and-doughnuts cliché, quipped: “Where are the doughnuts?” while surveying a spread of coffee and cookies.

Tim Morrison, the Esquimalt councillor skewered by American satirist Stephen Colbert on the former The Colbert Report, even gamely agreed to reflect on that “monumental experience” and Colbert’s upcoming new CBS talk show. Colbert had roasted Morrison for his stand against Bongy, the Bong Warehouse mascot.

“My goal is to maybe get on his new show one day. It’s good to stand out in the crowd,” said Morrison with a laugh during a break. “Maybe it will be twice in one lifetime. It probably got me re-elected.”

Before addressing his audience, Elsner said Esquimalt’s reputation as a high-crime region is undeserved.

“I don’t know where it comes from, because Esquimalt is a great community,” he said. “I have a lineup of officers wanting to come and work here. I think that’s indicative of how good a place it is for officers who want that opportunity to come in and do some proactive community-based initiatives. A lot of times, in the downtown core of Victoria, for example, officers don’t have the time to do that.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she welcomed the opportunity for residents to hear Elsner’s report on “the highs, the lows, what we do well and what are the concerns,” based on input from residents and the business community in Victoria and Esquimalt. With the community’s strategic-planning sessions nearing completion, the timing was ideal, she said.

“All this information gets rolled into that,” Desjardins said. “The great thing about Esquimalt [residents] is they’ve always been actively involved in their policing and they want to be a part of it through Block Watch, ETAG [Esquimalt Together Against Graffiti] and so on. Our residents are saying ‘We want to help you guys’ and this is another way of making the connection to do that.”

VicPD spokesman Const. Mike Russell said the importance of such events uniting officers and the community they serve can’t be underestimated.

“It goes back to [Sir Robert] Peel’s principles,” he said. “Police are the community and the community are the police, and that’s what we’re doing, coming to the community to ask what we need to improve on.”

One example of community engagement is VicPD’s volunteer Crime Watch program, which has 88 volunteers, including 22 front deskers and 10 program and project assistants.

The new Esquimalt division commander, Insp. Colin Watson, said he’s impressed with the friendliness of locals who wear their civic pride like “a badge of honour” and the “community intelligence” they can provide.

Noting “there’s a disconnect between where and when residents feel safe,” Watson said his immediate goal is to set priorities that survey results suggest include higher visibility and more criminal investigations. “I believe Esquimalt is a really safe community,” said the new commander. “We want to make sure it stays that way now that we have a dedicated Esquimalt division.”

For survey results, go to vicpd.ca.