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Chief says coming report will clarify Victoria police staffing crisis

Sep 18 2012
Victoria police chief Jamie Graham says a new report will clarify staffing stresses within the department. 

Victoria police chief Jamie Graham says a new report will clarify staffing stresses within the department.

Photograph by: LYLE STAFFORD , TIMES COLONIST

Despite years of multimillion-dollar budget increases and a crime rate on a steady decline, Victoria police say a report to be released this week will explain the department's staffing crisis.

VicPD will unveil a department-wide restructuring plan based upon an efficiency report by University of the Fraser Valley criminologist Darryl Plecas.

The move comes as the force faces widespread criticism for pulling resources out of the regional domestic-violence unit to make up for what Chief Jamie Graham said is a shortage of officers.

Graham called it "an absolute crisis in our detective office of a shortage of people" that is leading to trouble investigating cases of Internet fraud, child exploitation and sexual predators.

VicPD's budget has grown more than 22 per cent in the last five years, from $34.9 million in 2007 to $42.85 million in 2012.

During that time, the force has added 21 new officers, for a total of 243.

VicPD needs 55 more just to reach the provincial average caseload per officer, Graham said earlier this year.

The growth in budget and employees is still below the provincial average, deputy chief Del Manak said.

"We know and recognize the ability for municipalities to pass this on [in taxes], and to get the officers is not really a fiscal reality," said Manak, adding he expects the report from Plecas will show how the department can realign its resources "to be more effective and efficient - if you don't have the luxury of adding new officers."

VicPD's budget growth has outpaced Saanich, Central Saanich and Oak Bay over the last 10 years.

Deputy chief John Ducker blamed the corecity phenomenon, where Victoria and Esquimalt residents, making up 40 per cent of the region's population, end up paying to police 64 per cent of the region's crime.

"It's the inequity of our higher caseload requiring more officers that puts a higher tax burden on the citizens of Esquimalt and Victoria," he said.

Crimes are often more serious and take longer to investigate, added Manak.

Meanwhile, the crime rate in Greater Victoria continues to drop - by 17 per cent in 2011, 10 per cent in 2010 and four per cent in 2009.

Victoria's police board is grappling with rising costs during times of fiscal restraint for governments, said Victoria mayor and board chairman Dean Fortin. Explaining why costs go up while crime goes down is one question the board continues to ask.

"We are in challenging financial times right now," Fortin said. "I know both the City of Victoria and the Township of Esquimalt are asking our police force to reduce costs."

The board will also conduct a second efficiency review, Fortin said.

Retired University of Victoria criminologist Jim Hackler said it's not fair to focus solely on the crime rate to judge a police force.

Instead, there's the much harder-to-quantify benefit of having officers focus on preventive community work, which has a long-term payoff for society but isn't easily captured in annual statistics, Hackler said. rshaw@timescolonist.com

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