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We're still not there on policing, critics say of Victoria-Esquimalt merger

Jun 29 2012

While the continued forced merger of policing in Victoria and Esquimalt is being called a fresh start to a rocky relationship, critics say it’s the same half measure implemented in 2002 that ignores a larger solution of a single Greater Victoria police force.

“We believed the province was committed to … a better policing system which we all agree requires that regional connection that was promised in ’02 and was never delivered,” said Esquimalt Coun. David Hodgins, a former fire commissioner who now works as an emergency management consultant.

Solicitor General Shirley Bond announced Wednesday she accepts the recommendations of an independent mediator’s report rejecting Esquimalt’s bid to ditch the Victoria police and contract out with the RCMP.

There is no appetite in the region to force a single police department in Greater Victoria, she said.

“That’s not right, the public want it,” Hodgins countered. “The only people who are happy with the police not being regional right now are the criminals, who can cross the border and they’re in another world.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins didn’t hold back her frustration with the province’s decision, accusing Bond of ignoring the concerns of her community. It leaves skepticism over whether the two municipalities will really be able to resolve their differences in the forced marriage.

The provincially appointed mediator, Jean Greatbatch, made recommendations to give Esquimalt more of an equal partnership, such as re-naming the department the Victoria-Esquimalt police department, altering the structure of the police board, improving the funding formula and creating a better conflict resolution process.

But it doesn’t address the fact that Esquimalt still pays the second-highest policing costs per capita in the region, second only to Victoria.

Esquimalt councillors say they’re still picking up the costs of policing the downtown core, which becomes the region’s playground on evenings and weekends with people flocking to bars, restaurants and concert halls.

“VicPD is very costly, that was one of the reasons we started this process in the first place,” Desjardins said Wednesday. She said the constantly rising policing costs are “not sustainable” for her community.

Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham promised Esquimalt would get a dedicated patrol, with patrol officers and cars stationed out of the West division on Park Place adjacent to the Esquimalt fire hall.

When the province forced Esquimalt to merge with the Victoria police department in late 2002, the then-solicitor general promised it was the first step toward a regional police department. Countless task forces, reports and inquests have recommended a single police force for Greater Victoria but instead the province has opted for integrated units that operate across departments on specialized issues such as homicide or traffic.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said Victoria and Esquimalt have the challenge of proving that two communities can work together under a single police force so that other municipalities might consider a regional option.

Fortin maintained the rocky relationship the two communities have had since 2003 isn’t an indication of failure.

It’s still unclear whether Esquimalt will be forced to pony up the $462,747 it held back after refusing to pay its share of the 2011 police budget increase of $2.16 million.

Esquimalt pays 15.1 per cent of the Victoria police budget. Desjardins said Thursday that issue has not been resolved.

Greatbatch recommended that each municipality should be responsible for paying for its own patrol detachments, and then split a portion of overhead and shared services costs based on a formula to be negotiated.

Greatbatch said the Capital Regional District should strike a working group to see if any VicPD costs are regional in nature and set a funding formula to split those among Greater Victoria communities.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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