Jack Knox: Two decades after shotgun wedding, VicPD's parents still searching for love

Here’s where, without even knowing it, Esquimalt saved a few bucks this week.

It was when VicPD Chief Del Manak, citing threats to bylaw officers, persuaded Victoria council to cough up $75,000 for more policing in city parks.

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Had Manak found the money in his existing budget, Esquimalt would have been on the hook for 14.7 per cent of that cost, because that’s the township’s share of police-department spending. But because the budget cupboard was bare, and because the $76,000 was for a service that benefited Victoria alone, Manak went only to Victoria for the extra funds.

A minor matter, but illustrative given that Victoria and Esquimalt just went through their latest round of couples counselling.

They have been doing so since 2002, when the provincial government ordered the shotgun marriage of the two municipalities’ police departments.

It has been a troubled union from the get-go, as evidenced by the latest exercise, in which former Vancouver deputy police chief Doug LePard, now a consultant, was commissioned by the province to prepare two reports.

The first tweaked the cost-sharing formula, suggesting that Esquimalt’s portion of VicPD’s budget should be lowered to 13.67 per cent, which would result in Victoria paying an extra $600,000.

The second looked at the “rubbing points” where friction occurs in the agreement under which Victoria, Esquimalt and the police board operate.

LePard’s findings weren’t surprising. Both Victoria and Esquimalt profess love for their cops, but neither is thrilled to be in this marriage, not with just the two of them partnered in what was supposed to be a regional force.

Both municipalities want to rein in the amount they spend on policing. Esquimalt is tired of being stuck with the bill for things that have nothing to do with Esquimalt, like overtime for protests at the legislature.

Victoria, where much of the region’s street problems (and their associated costs) are concentrated, wants somebody other than the police dealing with mental-health and other societal issues.

Meanwhile, there’s grumbling about Victoria council’s habit of interfering in the budget process; municipal police departments are governed by arms-length police boards (VicPD’s is chaired jointly by the mayors of Victoria and Esquimalt) precisely to prevent political meddling.

LePard concluded that it would help to bring in an independent facilitator to address the “trust issues” and communications problems between parties. He wants VicPD’s ability to produce good analytical data increased so that municipalities can see what they’re paying for. All parties need to do a better job of abiding by the framework agreement. Everybody needs to be on the same page about staffing levels.

LePard also suggested bringing in an expert to look at the role of the department. “It is beyond the scope of this review to conduct an analysis of the adequacy of VicPD’s current resources and the efficiency with which they are deployed,” he wrote. “It is notable, however, that VicPD has the highest crime rate (by a considerable margin) and the highest Criminal Code case burden per officer of all communities policed by a municipal police force in B.C.”

Again, none of this is surprising or new. The broad strokes are the same as they have been for almost two decades: Victoria is unhappy about doing the heavy lifting for the entire region, and Esquimalt feels like the lone junior partner in an unequal relationship.

The question that never gets addressed is: Why is it only VicPD that has to deal with this stuff? Other police departments don’t need to steer around the same political potholes.

As LePard points out, Victoria, like Vancouver, is an “outlier” in Canada, where most metropolitan areas, even those with multiple municipalities, are policed by a single force. Greater Victoria’s balkanized system, comprising four municipal departments and a handful of RCMP detachments, isn’t found elsewhere.

The 2002 merger in which the Victoria Police absorbed Esquimalt’s troubled department was supposed to be the first step toward the creation of a regional force, but that plan died when the provincial government lost its water in the face of municipal opposition.

Esquimalt, feeling abandoned, tried to divorce VicPD a decade ago but was rebuffed by the province — though, worried about police resources being sucked downtown where the action is, the township did get its own dedicated unit of frontline police officers who are meant to stick to Esquimalt.

Note that this is not a model followed by other municipalities that share police services. The West Shore RCMP detachment doesn’t dedicate separate patrols to Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin and Highlands. Same goes for the Sidney/North Saanich, North Cowichan/ Duncan and Comox Valley detachments, all of which cover multiple municipalities.

The Mounties just deploy their cops where they’re needed. That’s the way it works with Canada’s regional forces, too; individual councils pay the fare but don’t try to drive the bus. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and all that.

Ah, but here in Dysfunction-By-The-Sea, we can’t even agree on the number of cooks, let alone a recipe for a happy marriage.

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