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Mayors promise to make policing relationship work

Sep 22 2012

As state secrets go, this one didn't have the drama of, say, who was on the grassy knoll or what's going on in Area 51.

Still, it was intriguing Friday to finally get a look at the competing RCMP and VicPD bids to provide policing in Esquimalt. The proposals had been under wraps since being submitted to the municipality in May 2011.

Even more intriguing was the sight of mayors Dean Fortin of Victoria and Barb Desjardins of Esquimalt declaring that this policing-cost fuss ain't over yet.

Instead of butting heads, as occasionally happened during Esquimalt's failed attempt to divorce itself from VicPD, they called on other municipalities and the provincial government to spread out the region's lawenforcement costs.

In related news, I want to ride a unicorn. The mayors might be right, but their neighbours aren't exactly rushing to pull them out of the well. The province could force the issue, but neither the NDP nor the Liberals have shown an appetite for that fight.

That left Desjardins and Fortin all alone Friday, sitting side by side in Esquimalt council chambers as the RCMP and VicPD proposals were released - a bit of an exercise in apples and oranges, as it turned out.

The VicPD proposal forecast Esquimalt's share of the annual operating and capital budgets would average $7.4 million for five years. The RCMP bid showed annual spending averaging $4.9 million, though that figure is a bit misleading - it didn't factor in such costs as $12.6 million for a new police building, the price of major investigations (often $1 million or more) or the use of auxiliary officers.

In short, the VicPD numbers were what it would take to drive the new car off the lot, while the RCMP gave the sticker price without the undercoating or murder squad. VicPD claims that once all that stuff is added in, the two proposals were pretty comparable in price.

In any event, it's moot now. Justice Minister Shirley Bond has already rejected council's desire to go with the Mounties' proposal for an autonomous detachment of 33 cops and eight or nine civilians. Instead, it must content itself with being part of the patch covered by the 243-member Victoria force.

Esquimalt did claim a significant victory Friday with VicPD's announcement that the community will get its own dedicated patrol, 24-hour coverage by officers who, working under a staff sergeant, will begin and end their shifts in the cramped, aging public safety building.

But there's no escaping the frustration both municipalities continue to feel as they stagger under the weight of "core city syndrome," the cost of dealing with the two-thirds of Greater Victorians who pour into the capital every day.

The city of Victoria has the highest policing costs in B.C. - $433 per resident in 2010, according to a report by the province's police services division. Esquimalt is tied with Vancouver at $356.

That compares to $214 in Saanich, $241 in Oak Bay and $232 in Central Saanich, the other communities with municipal forces.

The RCMP runs relatively lean operations: Sidney pays $200, North Saanich $153 and Sooke $134. The West Shore detachment is a bargain even by Mountie standards

- Langford's cost is $133 per person, while Colwood, at $121, pays less than any other medium-or largesized community in B.C.

Victoria and Esquimalt say that model can't continue.

"The regional costs that are being borne by these two communities are not sustainable," Desjardins says.

More than the cost, regionalization is a matter of more efficient policing and better public safety, Fortin said.

The mayors vow to make their awkward VicPD relationship work, knowing that if two municipalities can't get along, they can hardly expect a dozen to do so.

Esquimalt and Victoria will work on a new policing framework, conduct an efficiency review to see if there are savings to be made. The province has sent in Lee Doney, a provincial deputy minister for 17 years, as a facilitator/marriage counsellor.

Fortin and Desjardins want more, are calling on the province to show some leadership, get the capital region's other councils in the conversation.

So far, they're the only two talking.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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