Victoria-Esquimalt harmony first step in police regionalization: mayor

The Victoria Police Department needs to fix its broken relationship with Esquimalt before it can convince Greater Victoria mayors and citizens that a single department is viable, officials in Saanich and Esquimalt said in response to a leaked VicPD regionalization report.

“I’ve always said that if we can get our house in order in terms of Victoria and Esquimalt, then we are a model for those naysayers to look and say, ‘Yes, they can make it work,’ ” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who has read Victoria police’s regionalization report, which was leaked to the Times Colonist.

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Since the forced merger between Victoria and Esquimalt police in 2003, the Township of Esquimalt has complained that it pays more for policing and gets less service. Residents have also said the focus on community policing has been lost.

In 2012, Esquimalt said it wanted to ditch Victoria police in favour of a standalone RCMP detachment, thereby creating an eighth police department in the region. The province quashed that plan and sent in a mediator to help repair the relationship.

“People have come to me and said they want to amalgamate seven different policing agencies in the capital region and they can’t even sort out what’s happening between themselves and Esquimalt,” said Saanich police Chief Mike Chadwick. “It’s not a secret out there. People are watching very closely how that’s been handled.”

Chadwick stressed that he would not comment on the report itself but was speaking generally on the topic of regionalization. He said the current model of specialized integrated units is a better way for the seven departments to work together than being forced to amalgamate.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said it’s outside the jurisdiction of the Victoria police board to be making recommendations on the services provided by other departments.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, who chairs the police board, said it would be inappropriate to comment on a report that was presented to the board in private.

“In general, the Victoria police board has endorsed trying to create the safest region within Canada as one of our strategic plans by 2020, so this is something that has arisen as a result of consultation with our citizens, business community and others,” Fortin said.

Police chiefs in the region last week agreed on a more standardized funding formula for integrated units, such as the region’s traffic team or homicide investigation unit, Central Saanich deputy chief Les Sylven said.

The formula — based on population, number of officers, calls for service and the municipality’s property value — is designed to eliminate confusion around how departments commit resources to the integrated units, he said.

But this doesn’t force departments to co-operate or participate in an integrated unit.

For example, Victoria police pulled out of the Regional Crime Unit in 2009 and has set up its own team to target prolific offenders.

The province’s police services division is currently looking at how to improve integration among police departments in Greater Victoria and is set to discuss its recommendation with the region’s mayors this fall.

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