A city spending watchdog says amalgamating police forces is the way to go.
The Grumpy Taxpayer$ says that after years of discussion, creating a regional police force would save taxpayers money, and police departments a lot of overlap.
“Police costs have been escalating for a number of years far beyond inflation, so consolidation absolutely must be looked at as one strategy to contain the impact on taxpayers,” said Grumpy Taxpayer$ president Stan Bartlett in an email.
“Possible operational benefits of regional policing include a consolidated computer crimes unit, police personnel having better chances for expanding their skills – as they could move from general policing to specialized squads – and eliminating the need for managing and administering ‘integrated’ squads. It would centralize administrative functions and remove overlaps.”
The idea for a regional police force has been floated for over a decade, and was recently listed in the City of Victoria’s 2019 Strategic Plans as the fourth priority to “work to regionalize police services and consider the possibility of a single, amalgamated police service for the region.”
The Victoria Police Department, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins all continue to advocate for the change.
“I think that the challenges with budgeting that are occurring, both within our two communities is challenging, but also there’s challenges with the Saanich budget,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins, who also co-chairs the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board. “It’s becoming increasingly important that we look at the efficiency of a regional police force.”
Desjardins noted that Esquimalt as a small community ends up having a very high police budget due to the proximity to the downtown area.
“As a community, we have some sense of subsidizing downtown issues,” Desjardins said. “For us it’s becoming untenable to stay within the model right now, so any assistance by other communities would help to spread those costs.”
The problem, Desjardins said, is getting other communities interested in even discussing the topic. Different police boards used to have regular meetings together, but in the past four or five years these inter-departmental meetings stopped.
“Oak Bay basically felt that the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board, having the challenges that they were having in regards to the [former] police chief put these discussions on the back burner,” Desjardins said. “Plus, we had been relying on provincial funding , and that dried up.”
Desjardins, who has been on the police board for 11 years said something new needs to happen.
“Have we been able to move the needle? No we haven’t,” she said. “This isn’t something that’s going to happen quickly, the province hasn’t to date been willing to really step in, so as a community we’ll just have to encourage each other.”
Steps are being taken to get communication between police boards going once again, with the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board and the Saanich Police Board currently scheduling an upcoming meeting for the first time in years.
Desjardins and Bartlett are also both encouraged by the amalgamation of department dispatchers at the new South Island 911/Police Dispatch Centre in Saanich.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes has been publicly against the idea of an amalgamated police force, but was not available for comment.
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