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Victoria police chief made cuts to domestic violence unit despite warning of dangers

Nov 17 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

Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham was warned by his own sergeant that cutting the region's domestic violence unit would reduce support for victims and children and potentially lower conviction rates, internal documents show.

Sgt. Jason Laidman outlined the impact of removing one of two VicPD officers seconded to the unit in an email to Graham on Sept. 10 - three days before the chief announced the cutback to most local police departments.

Laidman said the unit would have to accept 15 per cent fewer high-risk cases and cut training, according to emails obtained by the Times Colonist under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Cases that are not accepted will not have the victim or child support to the level that you would see at the [regional unit]," Laid-man wrote. "We have shown that this support directly affects conviction rates.

"The potential for breakdown in communication will increase; the Unit was designed to reduce these gaps."

Despite the warning, Graham went ahead with the cut. Records show VicPD also considered withdrawing Laidman and letting the regional unit collapse.

"I left Sgt. Laidman as the lone [regional unit] investigator instead of removing both of them and collapsing the unit," deputy chief Del Manak wrote to Graham on Aug. 31.

Laidman now leads one investigator from Saanich and one from West Shore RCMP.

The department refused to make Laidman available for an interview this week.

In his emails, Laidman didn't demand the chief change his mind, but said he wanted to inform him of the impact of the decision.

B.C.'s child and youth advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said the documents confirm her fears.

"This is what I was concerned about at the time, and I remain concerned about," she said. "But now it has become apparent that they knew full well the impact."

She said research shows that specialized units increase conviction rates because they make women and child victims feel safe enough to proceed through the court system to confront their attackers.

Graham pushed the creation of the unit in 2010 following the murder of six-year-old Christian Lee.

The little boy died Sept. 4, 2007, at the hands of his father, Peter Lee, who also killed his wife, Sunny Park, and her parents before taking his own life in Oak Bay.

Turpel-Lafond's review showed that, in the weeks before the murders, Sunny complained about domestic violence to three municipal police departments, but nobody was able to protect her.

"VicPD's decision to remove one officer from the Regional Domestic Violence Unit has allowed us to enhance our capacity to manage the high volume of domestic violence cases that we investigate," deputy chief John Ducker said in a statement.

"This was not an easy decision and we had extensive internal discussions about how best to use our limited resources to the best possible effect for public safety."

But it makes little sense to focus on general cases at the expense of high-risk files, Turpel-Lafond said.

VicPD made an important commitment to co-ordinate domestic violence policing on Vancouver Island after the Lee murders, she said.

"It was a good beginning. Taking one person out is a huge setback. To suggest otherwise isn't going to cut it."

rshaw@timescolonist.com lkines@timescolonist.com

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