Police in Saanich, Victoria combining their dog units

The Saanich and Victoria police departments have combined their dog units to create the Integrated Canine Service, which will operate out of Victoria’s Esquimalt Division headquarters.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said that the new service — in effect as of Monday — will be more effective, while Saanich Police Chief Scott Green touted cost savings and expanded coverage.

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Manak said the abilities of police dogs have expanded over the years from simply tracking to the detection of things like drugs and firearms.

“To add and have that capacity really shows our communities that we are looking at efficiencies and we’re committed to their safety.”

He said police canine services are expensive. “There is a lot of money invested in the dogs, in maintaining their competency training and making sure that they’re well cared for, along with the handler.”

The budget for the Integrated Canine Service this year is about $1.25 million, with Victoria paying 55.4 per cent and Saanich paying 44.6 per cent.

Manak said the Victoria Police Department will save in the range of $200,000 through the combined effort, allowing for the hiring of two more officers outside of the canine unit.

Saanich spent about $835,000 of an overall $36-million 2020 budget on canine service, and this year its expenses will be down to $557,000 — a savings of $278,000.

The departments said the savings resulted from economy of scale and the combining of resources.

In addition, two Saanich dogs retired as of Monday, leaving the combined canine team with eight dogs: six German shepherds and two Labradors that specialize in detecting explosives.

Manak said the canine programs in both Victoria and Saanich have established good reputations across the country, and there is excitement about bringing them together.

He said discussions about the process went on for months, and he and Green initially reached out to RCMP units, as well.

While there was no interest from them at the time, there has been some of late from the West RCMP detachment, Manak said.

The model for police integration in the area is the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, formed in the 1990s, Green said.

“For the integrated canine service, there will be six handlers,” he said. “There will be service seven days a week, all evenings until the early hours of the morning.

“So like the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, it’s very robust, very deep in resources.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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