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If the Victoria-Esquimalt policing agreement ends next year, what comes next?

Policing in the two communities could look very different in the next few years—but is a regional policing model the answer?

By Shannon Waters
November 4, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

If the Victoria-Esquimalt policing agreement ends next year, what comes next?

Policing in the two communities could look very different in the next few years—but is a regional policing model the answer?

Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

If the Victoria-Esquimalt policing agreement ends next year, what comes next?

Policing in the two communities could look very different in the next few years—but is a regional policing model the answer?

By Shannon Waters
November 4, 2022
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If the Victoria-Esquimalt policing agreement ends next year, what comes next?
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto is anticipating an “extremely challenging and interesting” year for the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board as the two municipalities grapple with the possible end of the agreement that has governed their shared policing service for two decades.

“Esquimalt has already indicated they'd like to do something different by the end of 2023,” Alto told Capital Daily. “That's going to be a very complex conversation that takes place with the Esquimalt Victoria Police Board over the next year, and that will obviously have a huge impact on both budgets in Victoria and Esquimalt.”

Esquimalt council voted unanimously in August not to renew the framework agreement that ends next year and is now in the process of determining what its other policing options might be and how to make the transition smoothly. The town has to make its case to the province before the end of next year in order to get the green light. Consulting firm Perivale and Taylor was selected earlier this month to compile a report on Esquimalt’s options. City staff expect a final report will be before council by June next year to the tune of about $140,000.

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Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins knows there is no guarantee the Ministry of Public Safety—which declined the town’s request for funding to do the work the province requires to even consider the issue—will release the town from the amalgamated service imposed in 2002.

But Desjardins, recently elected to her fifth term as mayor, is hopeful policing in Esquimalt will be different by 2024.

“I do feel that we are at a place where we will make a change,” Desjardins said, adding that the current policing arrangement has been unsatisfactory “for far too long.”

“It has not worked since amalgamation despite several iterations of trying,” she said of the current model.

It’s not the service itself that’s causing frustration, Desjardins said, but the way the police service is governed and paid for.

“The amalgamated way right now means that Esquimalt keeps paying for City of Victoria policing and no one else does, and that's not fair to our community,” Desjardins said.

While Esquimalt could end up considering a number of potential alternatives to the current policing model, Desjardins’ first choice is an amalgamated force.

“It's either got to be regional policing or Victoria and Esquimalt will have to figure out how they can do it very, very differently because the way it's working now is not working,” she said. “It's not going to be easy… but if we can make it better for everyone, ultimately, those of us that are in this situation, would love everybody else to join us.”

Alto is also a fan of the possibility of regional policing.

“Rather than assume that both Esquimalt and Victoria need a separate police force, let's talk about doing good policing on a regional basis,” she said.

But even with both Alto and Desjardins—who are set to co-chair the Victoria Esquimalt Police Board—on the same page, other municipal players must be engaged in any conversation about regional policing.

“We need to have a sense of whether Saanich and Oak Bay [are supportive],” Desjardins said. “Maybe others but certainly those four could come together in a regional form.”

Determining the future of policing in Esquimalt, Victoria and beyond is likely to take some time, even with the current framework agreement set to expire at the end of 2023.

“I suspect that it's probably unrealistic to think we would have a regional police force in place by January 1, 2024,” said Alto. “If there's an appetite to have that conversation—and that has to include the province—then there is probably going to need to be a transition time.”

Local needs could get lost under a regional policing model, says Oak Bay mayor


Saanich mayor-elect Dean Murdock says the district is currently well-served by the Saanich Police Department but would be open to discussing what a regional policing model would look like.

“I would welcome a discussion about whatever kind of policing model would be effective for the Capital Region and for the District of Saanich,” Murdock told Capital Daily. “We are regional partners [and] Saanich is the largest municipality in the Capital Region and so any discussion about a regional service model really requires Saanich to be at the table if it is going to be effective.”

In Oak Bay, acclaimed mayor Kevin Murdoch is not sure a regional model will solve the issues plaguing Victoria and Esquimalt, pointing out that the current amalgamation of police services in just two municipalities has not worked well.

“I don't have an easy answer for this one, but amalgamating them just as a sort of a wide brush [approach], I think it's probably actually going to be harmful to the effect of policing in the region if it's not done very, very carefully,” Murdoch said.

As co-chair of the Capital Regional District’s Regional Governance Council for Integrated Police Units—which formed earlier this year—Murdoch knows firsthand how tricky it can be to set up a police oversight body that crosses municipal boundaries. Composed of all mayors across the region, the council’s role is to provide oversight and guidance to the five integrated policing teams operating across the CRD.

Creating it was not a quick or easy feat.  

“It took us a few years to work through what we could do under the Police Act in a way to give us anything meaningful in terms of governance, but that didn't overstep the bounds of our authority,” Murdoch said.

Communities are able to provide feedback directly to municipal police departments, a relationship that Murdoch says helps ensure the needs of the community are well-served—something that might get lost in a regional model.

A ‘fascinating and challenging’ problem presents plenty of opportunity: Alto


Under the existing agreement, Esquimalt has not been getting the policing it truly needs because Victoria’s priorities tend to take precedence, according to Desjardins.

“We don't have any say in terms of how policing fits for our community,” she said. “We're more of a small community—community policing is the way to go. Downtown Victoria has downtown issues, core issues [and] they need a different kind of policing.”

Alto acknowledges there are “significant concerns” about the capacity police have to respond to “urgent urban issues” in Victoria and hopes that community policing initiatives—such as the Peer Assisted Crisis Team expected to launch soon in Victoria—will play a role in diminishing demands on police resources.

“[Police] tell us every year that the vast majority of their work is around non-criminal matters—in dealing with community based crises—and so the more we can take that off their plate, the more they can do the work that they do well: preventing and dealing with crime,” Alto said.

She sees the desire for change as an opportunity for the current police board to consider the role civilian-led crisis response could play in the future.

“How do you police communities in a profoundly different way? Not just because the two communities are no longer necessarily synchronized but because the way policing exists in communities today is…changing dramatically,” Alto said. “It's going to be a really interesting year.”

Article Author's Profile Picture
Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter
[email protected]

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