Chief makes plea for regional police force

Jamie Graham says Greater Victoria taxpayers would get better value for money with unified police force

Victoria’s top cop is hoping a series of public talks will drum up support for a single regional police force.

Chief Const. Jamie Graham used a James Bay Neighbourhood Association meeting to illustrate the difficulty of running a 245-member department with the highest case load per officer in Canada.

“We suffer from a core city phenomenon,” Graham told the crowd of about 40 people at the New Horizons building Jan. 9. The discussion was part of Graham’s annual offer to speak at each community association in Victoria.

The downtown population can swell to 250,000 during large events, and the roughly 400 protests that take place at the legislature and elsewhere in Victoria fall on VicPD shoulders, he added.

“A common sense examination of the patchwork quilt of police departments in this region suggests there may be a better alternative, and the people I talk to tend to agree,” Graham told the News. “But there are different views and we respect them.”

Graham also referenced the Oppal Report, a judicial inquiry into the Robert Pickton case that cites the Lower Mainland and Capital Region as being the only two metropolitan areas in Canada with fragmented police forces.

“There’s no doubt that, should resources have been regionalized, (Pickton) would have been caught sooner,” he said.

Graham hopes to eventually see one municipal force from North Saanich to Victoria, and from Oak Bay to the West Shore. In the short-term, he hopes a regional communications centre can be established, but admits it’s a “tough sell.”

Police board member Roy Cullen, who accompanied Graham, told the crowd that policing amalgamation is a question of political will, and said the Ministry of Justice will play a key role if any changes take place.

“The province has enormous power,” Cullen said. “You saw what happened with Esquimalt. The province came in and said, ‘Sorry, Esquimalt and Victoria will stay together as one police force.’”

John Vickers of Amalgamation Victoria was also on hand to speak about the lessons gleaned from Halifax’s amalgamation in the mid-1990’s.

“Halifax is a provincial capital with 390,000 people. They now have one mayor with 16 councillors,” Vickers told the News. “We have 91 mayors and councillors representing our population of 360,000, and three school districts with 24 trustees. It’s about your dollar going a lot further to maximize return.”

Vickers and his colleagues plan to roll out a formal public relations message in the coming months, and possibly get a referendum question on the next municipal ballot.

“The current structure has served the community well,” he said. “But as we grow, there comes a time when it makes sound, practical sense to move this forward.”