Victoria police caught in funding dispute with Esquimalt

Victoria's police chief says the department is "severely lacking" on the frontline and needs more policing after the Township of Esquimalt quashed a proposal to fund six more officers.

Township of Esquimalt has rejected Victoria's proposal request for 6 police officers and 2 civilian staff

The Victoria Police Department hasn't increased its hiring in seven years, despite more demands, says the police chief. (Liz McArthur/CBC)

Victoria's police chief says the department is "severely lacking" on the frontline and needs more policing after the Township of Esquimalt quashed a proposal to fund six more officers. 

Police chief Del Manak met with the Esquimalt and Victoria councils in January to propose a $870,000 funding increase for six officers, plus two civilian staff. 

It would be part of a $2.1-million increase in the police's $54.5-million budget in 2018.  

Esquimalt, which shares policing services with Victoria, would cover $94,374 — 14.7 per cent — of the costs for extra staff, and Victoria would settle the balance.

Victoria council approved a $528,000 funding increase, but Esquimalt councillors nixed its share in a 4-3 vote in January. 

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who voted against the funding, said the proposal gave no indication that Esquimalt would get at least one designated officer. 

She said council also has received quarterly reports that suggest crime is falling in Esquimalt. 

"Those stats didn't indicate to us the need for adding more police officers," she said. 

Victoria police resources strained

But Manak says he needs to be able to scale staffing depending on where resources are needed.

Between 16.7 per cent and 21.4 per cent of on-duty patrols are specifically assigned to Esquimalt, according to Manak's budget report. 

The township represents about 11 per cent of all calls to service for Victoria police.  

"It's difficult for me to say, well, this officer is an Esquimalt officer and these officers are all in Victoria," Manak told All Points West host Jason D'Souza.

"The policing just isn't structured that way and it's not a practical application of running operations."

Manak says there haven't been any hiring increases in the past seven years. 

An independent review conducted last year found that the department was severely lacking in front-line staff, he said.

Manak said part of the problem stems from how police are now having to conduct investigations in light of new provincial standards that call for stricter guidelines

Esquimalt's population also grew 8.9 per cent between 2011 and 2016, compared to the 5.6-per-cent provincial average.  

'This is not going to turn into a fight'

Esquimalt considered ending its relationship with Victoria police in 2011 and contracting the RCMP, but was ordered by the province's justice minister to resolve the dispute.

The two municipalities eventually settled on a 10-year policing agreement in 2014 that set out dedicated divisions and funding formulas.

The challenge now lies in how each council interprets the agreement. 

"This is not going to turn into a fight between two municipalities," Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said. 

The municipalities face different issues, Helps said. 

Esquimalt deals with more serious crimes that take longer to solve, she said, while Victoria grapples with more street disorder when people stream out of bars. 

"The issue at hand is what happens when the department itself requests new resources, not when one municipality or another requests new resources?"

A committee that includes city and police administrators will meet Monday to re-examine the framework and try to reach consensus. 

If that fails, the proposal will go through a dispute resolution process. 

With files from CBC's All Points West