The Victoria Police Department says it’s stretched thin and needs more help to get the job done yet a funding request for 10 new positions has now been denied by Esquimalt council.
“Having to have a two step process to get a budget approved, it’s not working,” said VicPD Chief Del Manak.
Among them would have been two officers assigned to a mental health co-responder team with Island Health, something Manak says people in both communities have been calling for.
“Do I now stop at the boundary so if you’re having a mental health crisis in Esquimalt you have less service from the Victoria Police Department? It’s ridiculous, it’s unacceptable,” Manak said. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of heavy lifting, we’re at the finish line and it’s disappointing.”
Victoria City Councillor Stephen Andrew is suggesting that city foot the bill for the six new officer positions itself and suggests maybe its time for Esquimalt to go its own way.
“They only pay a very very small portion of the policing budget for Victoria yet they seem to have an absolute veto, that’s not appropriate, it’s not working and I wish them all the best in the future,” Andrew said.
But Andrew is part of a growing group of local leaders, including Esquimalt and Victoria’s mayors and Chief Manak, who say a regional police force is the best solution long term.
“We need a regional police department, not two municipalities forced together in an amalgamated department that ostensibly, for things like protests, are serving the entire region anyway,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
Right now on the south island, five municipalities, Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Saanich and Central Saanich have their own force, while Sidney, North Saanich, the West Shore and Sooke have contracts with the RCMP.
But despite the growing calls to amalgamate, some doubt the province is willing to make it happen.
“There is really no will to take on this amount of work, it is an amount of work but one that will absolutely serve the constituents not only in Esquimalt not just in Victoria but the whole capital region in a better way,” said former Solicitor General Kash Heed.
Most agree the current joint policing agreement, which comes up for renewal this summer, isn’t working.
“We’ve had that arrangement in place for 19 years now, and for the last 15 years we’ve been arguing about some of the facts, the way that contract agreement was put together,” said Heed.
Chances are, once again, the issue will be put back in the hands of the province to decide what happens next.
The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says the Director of Police Services is monitoring the situation. In a statement saying “there are processes clearly outlined in the Police Act for the development and approval of a police budget, and a process for resolving disputes.”
The Police Act is currently being reviewed by a committee and amalgamation may be one of the topics they consider. Their recommendations are expected at the end of April.
The police framework agreement between Victoria and Esquimalt comes up for renewal this July.