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Esquimalt to explore re-establishing its own police department

The township would contract with a larger police force for services like forensics, detention and major crimes investigations, as already occurs in Oak Bay
An Esquimalt police badge from 1982. TIMES COLONIST FILE PHOTO

The Township of Esquimalt will explore re-establishing an Esquimalt police department that would contract with a larger police department in the region for some services.

“I really feel like we’ve taken another step forward and I’m feeling very positive,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said Wednesday, a day after council voted unanimously to look at re-establishing the township’s own police force. Since 2002, Esquimalt has had a shared-policing agreement with Victoria, but it has long complained that it pays too large a share of police costs.

Council will now have to ratify the motion passed Tuesday night and then ask the province to allow it to investigate the new hybrid policing model.

The model, which would include contracting with a larger police force for services like forensics, detention and major crimes investigations, was suggested in a consultant’s report released this week and is similar to one used by Oak Bay police.

The report, from Perivale+taylor, said establishing a hybrid model could eventually save Esquimalt $800,000 to $1.2 million a year.

Currently, Esquimalt pays about 14 per cent of the Victoria Police Department budget, which is projected to be more than $70 million this year.

Desjardins said the decision to go with the hybrid model would provide Esquimalt with “a localized police force where community really is able to provide input as well.”

Esquimalt and Victoria have been required to share the costs of policing since 2002. Prior to that, Esquimalt had a joint police-fire department that had been in place since 1912. A standalone fire department was established in 2003 and 33 Esquimalt police officers joined VicPD.

Desjardins, who co-chairs the Victoria Esquimalt Police Board with Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, has said for years the shared-policing agreement doesn’t work for Esquimalt, as the township ends up paying for services it does not need.

“At this point, we feel that we’ve gone through the gamut of trying to make the situation work — we’ve tried everything,” she said. “The framework agreement is not flexible to speak to the differences in the two communities and adjusting policing to those differences.”

She also noted cost has become a factor. “We are almost at $10 million a year for policing, which is considerably more than like-sized communities.”

Desjardins, who noted that the service provided by VicPD has been excellent, said the township would likely explore contracting out some services with the department.

She said if the hybrid model proves to be unworkable, ­Esquimalt could revisit making some sort of agreement with Victoria.

But that is clearly not the township’s desired outcome.

“This is not taken lightly. It is built on all of the information we’ve gained over the years and we feel we have to try and take this step and continue to gain more information to see whether we can gain that greater local governance,” she said.

Desjardins said there are still a lot of unknowns as the process moves forward, especially around cost.

Council ruled out going with the RCMP and decided that contracting out all police services to another municipality was a no-go.

“That would be like going to less governance influence than we have now,” said Desjardins.

There is no timeline for the next steps toward establishing a local police force, and the township still has to get ministerial approval to do so.

In a statement, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said he is looking forward to meeting with the mayors of Esquimalt and Victoria to discuss the next steps.

“In the meantime, I am pleased that the current policing agreement between Victoria and Esquimalt has been extended. I would like to thank both mayors, as well as the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board, for their efforts, working collaboratively to keep everyone safe in the region,” he said.

The shared-policing agreement between Esquimalt and Victoria was renewed for one year in December with two one-year renewal options, which Desjardins said was done to provide some flexibility for this process.

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