Safe and secure in the Capital City – Victoria’s new motto, perhaps?
In his state of the city speech to Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce members, Mayor Dean Fortin trumpeted a significant regional reduction in severe crimes and the region’s sub-B.C. average overall crime rate – both largely due to falling rates in the city – as signs Victoria is on the right track in its efforts to attract both shoppers and residents downtown.
On Tuesday at the Union Club, he pointed to such city initiatives as the late-night police task force, late-night taxi stands and Bar Watch as helping to create a safer downtown.
Such moves helped the Victoria Police Department experience a 26-per-cent reduction in the number of public disorder calls last year, he said.
The tone of Fortin’s speech was upbeat: the Johnson Street Bridge project will provide hundreds of local jobs, city-subsidized housing is getting dozens of people off the street and the city’s kitchen waste program is posting better-than-expected results.
But city policing faces an underlying crisis.
The Victoria Police Department has been mandated under the city’s austerity program to limit its ever-rising budget to a two-per-cent increase for the coming year.
And while VicPD’s crime reduction strategies have hammered the crime rate down – many prolific offenders have been taken off the street, for example – Deputy Chief John Ducker worries about the long-term effect of limiting police personnel levels.
“The amount of information we have to provide ahead of getting a case to court; there’s an entire regimen that never existed say, five or six years ago,” he said of changes to day-to-day policing.
Writing reports is “much more onerous” for officers today, with more stringent requirements around disclosure for defence attorneys and such things as freedom of information and public expectation with respect to use of force, Ducker said.
“(Reducing the level of crime) hasn’t created a lot of room or a lot of daylight for us,” he said.
Fortin, co-chair of the Victoria Police Board, acknowledged that VicPD officers continue to have one of the highest caseloads per officer in the province. “Our officers run from call to call to call. They’re busy.”
He added Victoria remains a victim of “core city syndrome,” in which residents of the greater region congregate in the downtown core for work and play.
Asked whether the city has any plans to discuss with other municipalities ways of better evening out the workload or funding for policing, Fortin would only say there is already much co-operation between departments.