Victoria's higher levels of crime prompt renewed call for regional policing

The release of statistics showing a relatively high volume and severity of crime in Victoria is sparking renewed calls for region-wide policing.

The chief of the Victoria Police Department, the mayors of Victoria and Esquimalt and an advocacy group focused on lower taxes and more accountable municipal governments are among those calling for a single police force for the capital region.

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“If someone came into our region today to set up policing, they wouldn’t say: ‘I know, let’s set up 12 different arrangements,’ ” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “They would say: ‘Let’s set up one regional department that’s going to increase efficiency, enhance public safety and make sure that resources are deployed where they need to be.’ ”

Victoria functions as the region’s downtown core, drawing people from other municipalities to the city’s restaurants, bars and other amenities. It doesn’t make sense for people not to be policed regionally when there’s movement happening throughout Greater Victoria, Helps said.

Statistics Canada released data this past week showing a crime severity index in the city of Victoria of 168 — significantly higher than the 76 seen in the region as a whole. Victoria’s crime severity index also tops that of Vancouver (105) and the B.C. average (96), but is lower than for smaller communities such as Tofino (196), Duncan (188), Hope (226) and Prince George (223).

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the statistics show that her municipality is paying more than its fair share for VicPD’s budget.

This is the first time Statistics Canada has shared separate indexes for Victoria and Esquimalt, which has a significantly lower score than its neighbour at 39.

“This crime severity index clearly shows exactly what Esquimalt council has been saying all along, which is we don’t have the same kind of crime in Esquimalt that Victoria does. And that should be reflected in our cost,” Desjardins said.

Esquimalt pays 13.67 per cent of VicPD’s budget, with Victoria paying the remaining 86.33 per cent. VicPD’s 2020 budget was just over $58 million.

Both mayors say when the municipalities were mandated by the province to combine their policing, it was meant to be a first step toward a regional force.

“There’s many reasons why everyone in the region should be part of paying for the policing in Victoria. And so we have always said, you know, we shouldn’t be the only ones in this amalgamation,” Desjardins said. “It should be a regional policing force, so the costs are evened out across the region.”

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak also supports a regional policing model that would allow the force to scale up and down where needed to provide better service to the community. He pointed to the city’s high index as an indicator that his officers are stretched and the department lacks resources to proactively prevent crime in the core.

“We have lost that capacity in Victoria. We are so reactive and responsive, because I don’t have enough officers to even respond to 911 calls,” Manak said.

John Treleaven, chairman of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said Victoria’s high crime severity index should be treated as a regional problem.

“We all come down to downtown Victoria and we’re all welcomed and we all enjoy the amenities, so it’s a crossroads for the whole community. So it’s a problem for the whole community,” he said.

In 2019, the province rebuffed calls by Victoria councillors to create a single police force in the capital region.

Mike Farnworth, then the solicitor general, said in a letter to Helps that the province supports integrated and regional services “where appropriate” but that any changes to policing in the region would be “a decision for the municipalities involved and their elected officials.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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