West Shore mayors want regional crime unit restored

Less than six months after the successful regional crime unit folded, the mayors of Colwood, Langford and View Royal want the province to force its resurrection in response to a crime spike in the West Shore.

It wasn’t long after the regional crime unit — which targeted prolific offenders — disbanded at the end of 2014 that serious crime in the West Shore started to rise, said Langford Mayor Stew Young.

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“Everything was going great until the last three to six months, when we saw a spike in violent crimes,” Young said.

“It’s doing so much damage to our community because it’s not there.”

On the heels of a Tuesday meeting with West Shore RCMP Insp. Larry Chomyn, Young, Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton and View Royal Mayor David Screech will write a letter to the Justice minister and police services division asking for a meeting about West Shore’s police resources and the possibility of bringing back the regional crime unit.

Despite high-profile arrests of the region’s most prolific property criminals, the unit folded after withdrawals by Victoria police in 2008, and Central Saanich police and Sidney-North Saanich RCMP last year.

Young said the unit was disbanded without a unified discussion by the region’s mayors to ask: “How are we going to fill this void?”

He said it frustrates him that the Integrated Road Safety Unit thrives because of funding from Insurance Corporation of B.C. and traffic-ticket revenue, but a crucial unit targeting prolific offenders can fold because of money problems.

In November, the province introduced amendments to the Police Act that would force municipalities to participate in integrated policing units. The change was in response to recommendations by commissioner Wally Oppal in the Missing Women Inquiry regarding better co-ordination across multiple jurisdictions.

“I think it’s important that we get a regional crime unit re-instated as soon as we can,” Screech said, “especially with things like the motorcycle gang moving into the region.”

A biker clubhouse believed to be linked to the Devils Army — described by B.C.’s anti-gang unit as a Hells Angels “puppet club” — has set up at 2775 Spencer Rd. across the street from Spencer Middle School.

Screech said the regional crime unit might have more success if participation by municipalities was mandatory instead of voluntary.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said she would welcome a discussion with the mayors. “We are very strong believers in integrated units in policing,” she said.

“They’re looking for a team on southern Vancouver Island and I’m certainly very, very open and receptive to those discussions.”

She sidestepped questions, however, about whether it would be more efficient to have a regional police department that could respond faster to problems rather than forming, disbanding and re-forming integrated units.

“Should we have more regional policing?” Anton said.

“We’ve got Esquimalt and Victoria. But again, if local mayors wanted to come and talk to me about that, I’d welcome those discussions.”

Crime in the West Shore is up 16 per cent for the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period last year. That includes several high-profile assaults on women, with the most recent incident on Friday night, when a man with a sharp weapon tried to steal a purse from a 19-year-old woman walking on Atkins Avenue near Crystalview Drive.

Chomyn told the Times Colonist in March that besides the high-profile incidents, much of the spike in calls can be attributed to a few prolific offenders on break-in and theft sprees.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Chomyn requested funding for four additional officers so the detachment can set up a crime-reduction unit. Young said Langford council has already approved the hiring of three new officers, each of whom costs about $120,000 to $130,000 a year.

The Victoria police has a crime-reduction unit, but both Young and Screech said in order to track prolific offenders across municipal borders, a regional unit is essential. “I think everybody across the region realizes there are no boundaries with a lot of this crime that’s happening and we need a regional approach to it,” Screech said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

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