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Oak Bay mayor calls for talks on region's policing

Dec 07 2011

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen wants to kickstart discussions about policing options for the Capital Regional District.

Jensen has called on his counterparts to meet behind the Tweed Curtain in the New Year to begin the talks.

"There has been much said about the state of policing in the region. It's been talked about in the newspapers, the coffee shops and the doorsteps during the election," Jensen said in his inaugural address.

"Residents of the region want and deserve leadership on the issue. It is time for the mayors of the region to take up the dialogue."

The issue of regional policing was front and centre in the minds of many during last month's municipal elections. Victoria, which as the core carries the financial burden of policing the region's party centre, has long been an advocate of amalgamation of the region's police services.

Esquimalt, which had its police amalgamated with Victoria's by the province in 2003, is so unhappy with the arrangement it now wants to contract with the RCMP for policing services.

There are seven police departments in Greater Victoria, which has a population of 350,000. Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay and Central Saanich each have their own police departments. Esquimalt is policed by Victoria and the remainder of the municipalities in the CRD are policed by RCMP.

They work together through specialized integrated units that include areas such as: homicide, traffic, prolific offenders, domestic violence, and youth at risk.

Over the years, Oak Bay and Saanich have integrated a number of services. Oak Bay contracts services such as dispatch and major crime investigation to Saanich, while maintaining its own local patrol division.

Jensen said the Oak Bay model should be discussed alongside other models.

"Ensuring the safety of Oak Bay residents continues to be a key priority and we must address the reality that public safety transcends municipal boundaries," Jensen, a Crown prosecutor, said. "It is my sincere hope we will find agreement on how to move forward in a co-operative and collaborative way."

Other mayors welcomed the idea of discussions

"It's nice to hear a renewed interest from another municipality other than Victoria about how we can better integrate our policing to provide better policing for the betterment of the region really," Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said.

"So let's start those conversations."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said there have been ongoing discussions over the years between local mayors about policing issues and she'd be happy to participate in Jensen's initiative.

"Any discussions on policing I'm a willing participant," Desjardins said.

She said with the election bringing several new mayors to the region, some new ideas could emerge.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard agreed informal discussions are always underway, but said there's lots to discuss.

"Certainly, I have a mandate for integration. I talked about it in the campaign. All the councillors at all candidate meetings also were urged [to pursue] the integrated model," he said.

Langford Mayor Stew Young said he'd be happy to participate in any meaningful discussions about reducing crime, but said any discussions about amalgamation of policing without Saanich and Victoria taking the lead would be a waste of time.

"The number one thing is getting the crime down. That should be the focus, getting the crime down, not just being warm and fuzzy as politicians to use the amalgamation word," Young said.

"If it brings down crime and it's not just blah, blah, blah, that's fine. If the focus is to go after the criminals, get them behind bars and clean up the crime in these areas, that's what I want to talk about," he said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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