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Foot patrols top Victoria's police service wish list

Increased focus on bike thefts also a city priority in pre-budget consultation
Having more officers walking the beat downtown is on Victoria city council’s wish list for the Victoria police department as they discuss priorities for the police budget. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

More police officers walking the beat downtown and an increased focus on bike theft top Victoria city council’s wish list for the Victoria Police Eepartment.

The Victoria Esquimalt Police Board met with council Thursday as part of a pre-budget consultation to determine the city’s priorities for 2024 and which areas of public safety it considers less pressing.

The board heard plenty of the former, and very little that might lead to cost savings.

“It sounds to me that we’ve set for you the same challenge we have for ourselves upcoming in our own budget — how much can we do with how little,” said Mayor Marianne Alto.

When the board, represented by finance committee chair Elizabeth Cull, asked the city what public safety priorities the council would like VicPD to focus on, most ­councillors led with seeing an increased police presence downtown.

“The regular budgeted re- establishment of foot patrols and bike patrols downtown,” said Coun. Dave Thompson. “And really ­having the police officers seem more approachable, more human, and more present on the street.”

Coun. Krista Loughton agreed, noting feedback from pilot programs run over the last year has been very positive.

“People are supportive of it. They like the relationships that are created between businesses and also people experiencing ­homelessness and it’s working well,” she said.

Councillors also pitched having the police spend more time with city bylaw officers in dealing with homeless camps and street issues, while some said they don’t want to lose the officers in neighbourhoods on the fringes of downtown.

There was also a plug for expanding the co-response teams to tackle mental health issues, and doing more to ensure the safety of women and vulnerable people in bars and nightclubs.

The other issue raised by several councillors was the problem of bike theft.

“It’s something that it just seems to have rapidly increased lately,” said Coun. Matt Dell, noting bikes have become more expensive while thieves are armed with better tools for cracking locks. “It’s a big problem because it actually kind of conflicts with our sustainable transportation goals.”

Cull said the police board ­understands where the city is ­coming from, and acknowledged there is a desire to do more with less money.

“You have the same cost pressures that the police department has with wages and inflation and all the things that you have to try to squeeze into your budget, plus the desire to keep taxes low,” she said. “We are aware of that and we will have to do our best to try to figure out how we can fit within what the City of Victoria is willing to pay for the services that they demand of all of us.”

The police board will meet again with council about the budget in October, ahead of a joint meeting with Esquimalt council in November, where further details of next year’s police budget will be considered.

Victoria and Esquimalt have sparred over the cost of policing since 2002, when the province forced the two municipalities to share costs.

Esquimalt pays about 14 per cent of the $69-million VicPD budget.

Esquimalt wants to pull out of the shared policing agreement, which expires at the end of this year. The township has hired a consulting firm to come up with alternatives.

It would need provincial approval to get out of the agreement, as well as plans for a new service model and for the transition.

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