Capital region ripe for amalgamated police service, say mayors of Victoria and Esquimalt

It is not easy to get elected officials from different municipalities to agree on a policy, but in Victoria and Esquimalt there is a notable consensus on the future of policing: a regional force is the way to go. follow.

Esquimalt council’s unanimous vote on August 15 not to renew the township’s shared policing agreement with Victoria is just the latest push to get out of the amalgamated police service that has been imposed on municipalities by the province in 2002.

Last spring, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth received a joint letter from Victoria and Esquimalt councils asking to be released from the deal.

“[We were] asking for regionalization to move forward for policing and if that does not happen please allow us to part ways with this situation and rescind the Order in Council,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, at Capital Daily.

The minister agreed to consider the request in the joint letter – which remains behind closed doors pending a vote by Victoria council to make it public – as long as there is “a blueprint” for a new model of policing and a transition process.

“We all agreed it didn’t work,” Desjardins said of the joint letter. “By providing this notice that we are not going to renew the Framework Agreement, it sets in motion the section of the Framework Agreement that says all parties will come together to work through a transition process and develop a model. of transition.”

The best way to achieve “a well-designed transition strategy” would involve the two municipalities working together with Victoria Police to ensure “a smooth transition”, Desjardins said.

Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps have co-chaired the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Commission together for the past eight years and have “worked really hard to make it work for both communities,” Helps said.

This is why setting up separate police departments doesn’t make sense for Helps, and considering a regional police department spanning multiple municipalities is the best way forward.

“Additional fragmentation is the exact opposite of the common sense that is needed to fix this problem after literally 20 years,” Helps said. “Common sense would dictate that we are one region – we don’t need seven or 10 different policing arrangements; we need it and it’s for profitability, it’s for public safety and it’s for good governance.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak agrees. While he was “disappointed” with Esquimalt’s decision, Manak said in a statement Tuesday that he “hopes” the province will see the vote “through the lens” of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Law Reform. the Police Act and will consider taking “a fragmented police structure approach.

Helps echoed that sentiment.

“This is a golden opportunity for the province to step up and show some leadership.

But so far, there is little evidence that the province is willing to take a proactive approach to the Victoria-Esquimalt policing issue, a stance that Helps attributes to an unwillingness “to be seen to override municipalities”. However, faced with the “necessary” choice to merge the police forces of the two municipalities in 2002, the Ministry of Public Security and the Solicitor General found the “courage” to act, noted the mayor.

“There was no voluntary gathering – the province said, ‘You two are now merged,’” she said. “That’s exactly what the province needs to do across the region. They must say to the 13 municipalities: “Here is a way forward; here are the steps to get there to create a regional police service. Without provincial leadership, this will never happen.

Victoria mayoral candidates are on board to explore a regional policing option

Although Helps is not the one to occupy the chair of mayor of Victoria when the question of the amalgamation of services comes to an end, the two candidates currently vying to replace her – councilors Stephen Andrew and Marianne Alto – are also in favor of exploration of a regionalized police force.

“It would be much more efficient for the region and for the city of Victoria,” Andrew told Capital Daily. “The feeling around the table is that regionalization is something we would like.”

He believes a regional police force could improve resource allocation, provide officers with better opportunities for career advancement, and provide more options for various policing initiatives beyond patrolling.

Andrew compared the current police service merger to “a marriage that doesn’t work”.

“And if you have a marriage that doesn’t work, we’ll end up saying, ‘I want out,'” he said. “The question is, is the government going to allow this?”

While he suspects the province will set the bar high to end the current policing arrangement, Andrew was ‘encouraged’ by the recommendations the Select Committee on Police Law Reform has made. released in the spring, including a suggestion that the province consider providing policing “on a regional basis where there are opportunities to address fragmentation, ensure equitable access to policing and public safety and improve efficiency and effectiveness.

“I hope the government accepts these principles and moves forward – and that can’t happen fast enough, in my view,” Andrew said.

“There are issues in the capital region that are regional in nature and not being addressed regionally.”

Alto sees the current situation in Victoria and Esquimalt as an excellent opportunity to explore the possibilities and pitfalls of regional policing.

“You have this perfect local example, willing partners and the opportunity… So take this opportunity, province, and let us work together,” she said.

While Victoria will have to prepare for the possibility of Esquimalt deciding to go it alone on policing, Alto would like to see the city “push for, at least conceptually, as a pilot, some kind of regional force “.

Andrew pointed out that figuring out how to fund a regional force could be a tricky process. “We can’t have the same structure we have with Esquimalt, which pays about 13% of the budget but has 100% veto power over how we go forward and it just doesn’t work.

Alto suggested that the Capital Regional District’s funding model, which allocates service costs based on population, could serve as a model for covering the costs of a regional police service.

Like Helps, Alto sees a lead role for the province in helping interested municipalities work out the details of what a regional police force might look like.

“With so many complicated issues, if one side makes it easy, it will never seem fair,” she said. “There has to be another party that is willing to facilitate that, and the province makes sense. They also have the possibility of having a say, if not directives, on the financing and its operation. »

How many municipalities should be involved in a regional police service is an open question, according to Alto, which could be answered by “rich conversation and perhaps prompting.”

The province holds the trump card

Victoria Council will likely discuss its own approach to the possible end of the shared policing agreement upon its return from summer vacation and Esquimalt is already seeking a consultant to review the best options for replace the current service model and transition its police services.

Meanwhile, the province plans to wait for municipalities to set their priorities.

“Before we act, we are awaiting the report from the Township of Esquimalt,” the Department of Public Safety and Solicitor General said in a statement. The ministry is “currently evaluating” Esquimalt’s request for $150,000 to support the development of the proposal required by the province to enable the desired change.

As Desjardins pointed out, there is “no guarantee” that the province will release Esquimalt from the joint policing situation. Once the proposal is tabled, the ministry could reject it and refuse to repeal the decree that merged the police services of the two municipalities.

It’s already arrived. In 2011, Esquimalt proposed that the RCMP provide policing services to the township, but was rebuffed by the province.

The rejection of the latest application, which has the unanimous support of Esquimalt council and interest from both Victoria mayoral candidates, could cause considerable consternation, especially when the 2002 merger was initially touted as a first. step towards a sort of regional police service.

“I’m really surprised the province hasn’t done this because they’ve been told about it I don’t know how many times,” Andrew said.

“This is an opportunity for the province to do something bold, and it works perfectly with its own reform plans,” Alto said. “Then why wouldn’t they?”