Province says no to regional police force for Greater Victoria

The B.C. government has rebuffed calls by Victoria city councillors to establish a single police force in the capital region.

In a letter to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the province supports integrated and regional services “where appropriate.”

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“However, any change to policing and law enforcement in the capital region is a decision for the municipalities involved and their elected officials, subject to my overall responsibility to ensure adequate and effective policing and public safety in B.C.,” he wrote.

Farnworth added that he welcomed “the opportunity to consider any proposals presented jointly by the CRD and the municipalities involved.”

Victoria councillors unanimously endorsed a resolution in March calling on the province to establish a regional police force.

Most metropolitan areas in Canada are policed by a single regional force. Greater Victoria, however, has four municipal departments and three RCMP detachments policing about 370,000 people.

Victoria and Esquimalt have long argued that their taxpayers unfairly shoulder the burden of policing the region’s core, where people from other municipalities go to work and play each day.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who moved the council motion, said he understands that Farnworth doesn’t want to infringe upon municipal autonomy.

“I, personally, would like to have received a different response — one that indicated the province’s willingness to take more of a leadership role in terms of integrating police forces in the capital region,” Loveday said.

“With this letter in hand, though, I hope we will see more leadership from the across the region to accelerate not just integration of certain police units, but also the amalgamation of police departments as well.”

Loveday expressed hope that the citizens’ assembly process to study the amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich will take a hard look at the idea of merging emergency services.

“I hear often from residents, from across the region, who think that amalgamating emergency services makes a lot of sense, whether or not they’re in favour of amalgamation more generally.”

Catherine Holt, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said Farnworth is “ducking” his responsibility to ensure adequate and effective policing.

She noted that Victoria Police Chief Del Manak disbanded a key crime-prevention unit this summer so that his department can better respond to 911 calls. At the time, Manak reported that a number of his officers were “breaking” under workload pressures.

“What other information does the solicitor general require before he declares that he’s got a problem?” Holt said.

She echoed Loveday’s hopes that regional policing will figure prominently in the citizens’ assembly process.

“If the resources were combined between just those two departments — Victoria and Saanich — we would have a caseload, a budget, an officer-per-capita ratio that is far more balanced than we have at the moment with Victoria carrying a disproportionate amount of the weight,” she said.

“I think that it would be a step in the right direction for the solicitor general just to look at the advantages of those two departments being combined.”

Victoria councillors are slated to discuss Farnworth’s letter at a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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