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Comment: Province must take the lead on regional policing

The report from the missing-women commission, written by Wally Oppal, while directed to the Lower Mainland, should also act as a catalyst for the creation of a regional police force for Greater Victoria.

The report from the missing-women commission, written by Wally Oppal, while directed to the Lower Mainland, should also act as a catalyst for the creation of a regional police force for Greater Victoria. The report outlines a compelling case for regionalization over the current patchwork of police forces and RCMP detachments.

Oppal headed a commission of inquiry into policing in B.C. and released his report in July 1994. It contained 317 recommendations. That report did not support regionalization; instead, he stressed the need for various forms of integration among the various municipal departments and RCMP detachments in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.

After months of hearings into the missing women’s issue, he changed his opinion and now unequivocally recommends regionalizing police services.

“I recommend that [the] provincial government commit to establishing a Greater Vancouver police force through a consultative process with all stakeholders,” he wrote.

While this recommendation refers specifically to Greater Vancouver, the rationale applies equally to the current multi-jurisdictional policing model in Greater Victoria.

The attorney general’s office and Ministry of Justice have not taken any action in the past to implement regionalized policing, in part due to Oppal’s former recommendation that municipalities keep their own police forces and participate in integrated specialized units. Oppal has gained significant insight into policing through his previous role as a judge and by conducting these commissions of inquiry. After months of hearing testimony from police and others during the missing-women inquiry, he now strongly recommends regionalization for the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria.

In Greater Victoria, the first step towards regional policing occurred in 2003, when the Victoria Police Department began policing Esquimalt. Taxpayers in Victoria and Esquimalt now share the costs of policing the regional core and downtown Victoria. Other municipalities contribute nothing toward policing the downtown core.

Resistance by Saanich continues to be the major obstacle to moving forward on regional policing. Saanich chose not to participate in the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit when it was formed in 2010. Saanich police have the active (and still unsolved) investigation into the murder of real-estate agent Lindsay Buziak on Feb. 2, 2008. If anything, Saanich should have jumped at the opportunity to join the Integrated Major Crime Unit, which would have created a much larger pool of investigators to work on this horrendous crime.

Even though Saanich is now joining the unit, it is doing so in an underwhelming way. The population of Saanich exceeds that of Victoria and Esquimalt combined; Victoria and Esquimalt have provided six officers and one civilian to VIIMCU since the unit’s inception at a cost of about $900,000 annually.

In announcing that Saanich will join the integrated unit, Mayor Frank Leonard said Saanich’s cost for three officers and one support person would be $400,000, 45 per cent of Victoria’s cost.

Another example of inequity occurred when Victoria announced the redeployment of one member of the Domestic Violence Unit to other duties. Created in 2010 as a result of the Lee/Park murder-suicide in Oak Bay in 2007, the unit was originally staffed with two officers from Victoria and one each from the RCMP and Saanich.

Once again, Victoria committed twice as many resources as Saanich, even though Saanich has the larger population. When Victoria was forced to redeploy one officer to other duties, it was criticized, even though it was just reducing its commitment to equal Saanich’s.

These are two examples that demonstrate why integration has failed and why regionalization is necessary.

Regionalization will only happen when the provincial government mandates it; municipal consensus will never lead to regionalization on its own.

Leonard said he has repeatedly campaigned on retaining a strong community police department that participates in integrated regional units, and won’t deviate from that campaign promise. His major objection to a regional police service seems to be that “community policing” would be lacking in a regional force.

Community policing is a valuable and desirable concept that can easily be incorporated into a regional police force. Oppal, replying to a similar concern voiced by Mayor Lois Jackson and Chief Constable Jim Cessford of Delta that a larger metropolitan police force would compromise community-based policing, wrote: “With respect, I disagree. The establishment of decentralized infrastructure with local precincts, for instance, could address the needs of local municipalities while still accomplishing the benefits provided by regionalization.”

The municipalities of Oak Bay and Saanich will have to be compelled to move to regional policing, and this can only happen with a mandate from the province. The case for a regional police force for Greater Victoria is overwhelming, and Oppal’s report clearly makes the point that politics must no longer stand in the way of doing what must be done. There will be no consensus among municipal politicians; this is where the provincial government must show leadership.

 

Colin Nielsen of Victoria is a former RCMP member who served on Vancouver Island from 1967 to 1997.