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Standalone police force for Esquimalt feasible but costly, report says

It would require spending on new or refurbished police facilities, hiring officers in a time of significant officer shortages, and facing potential legal challenges from unions
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An Esquimalt police badge from 1982. TIMES COLONIST FILE PHOTO

Returning to a standalone Esquimalt police force would be cost-prohibitive, complex and challenging, says a municipal staff report based on a study by a consultant.

But it could be feasible if the force contracted out ­specialized services such as forensics, detention and major crimes investigations, the report says.

It would also require ­spending on new or refurbished police facilities, hiring a ­minimum of 25 officers in a time of ­significant officer shortages, and facing potential legal challenges from unions over successor rights in policing work.

A joint police-fire department that was established in 1912 provided policing services in Esquimalt prior to 2003, when the force was folded into the Victoria police.

The township has complained for years, however, that it was paying more than its fair share of costs for the VicPD, ­prompting it to hire consultants to study alternative policing ­service options.

Council is meeting Tuesday to discuss those alternatives, which include creating a standalone police force or contracting with another municipal police ­department for Esquimalt’s policing needs.

In the report, staff said while residents are getting good ­policing service, ­Esquimalt’s policing costs are among the highest in the region on a ­per-capita basis.

“Council does not believe it is an equitable arrangement for the Township to be the only other municipality contributing to VicPD’s costs,” it said.

Esquimalt currently pays about 14 per cent of the VicPD budget, which is projected to be more than $70 million in 2024. Its shared-policing agreement with Victoria will expire on Dec. 31, though there is a possibility of two one-year extensions.

Perivale+taylor, the consulting firm hired by the township, said an independent police force could eventually save Esquimalt $800,000 to $1.2 million a year.

But the transition could bring additional facility costs of up to $20 million, depending on whether police facilities are being renovated or built from scratch, the consultants said.

The report said the municipality’s current police facility — a VicPD satellite office on the basement floor of the Esquimalt Municipal Hall — would require new reception space, secure parking and additional offices before it would be ready for a standalone force.

There is not enough space in the hall for police cells, which would have to be located in a new police building or contracted out to Victoria or Saanich police.

The consultants ruled out RCMP as a police service provider after consulting with Public Safety Canada, as only communities with a population between 5,000 and 15,000 are eligible to apply for an RCMP detachment.

Esquimalt recorded 17,533 residents in the 2021 census.

An alternative option — fully contracting out the community’s policing to another police force — was considered non-viable by staff, as Esquimalt would lose the ability to oversee and govern police activities via a police board.

The costs and feasibility of contracting out policing services, either in part or in full, were not part of the consultant’s report, though it noted that additional operational and administrative support would be needed from either Victoria or Saanich police to establish an independent Esquimalt force.

Saanich in particular would need to hire staff and develop additional systems if it was chosen as the supporting police agency, the report said.

Municipal police departments in the capital region already share costs for a number of integrated services and units, including crowd management, crisis negotiation and explosive disposal.

The province, which has the final say on policing matters, has said it will consider a proposal from the township provided that it has a detailed plan outlining the policing model as well as the transition plan.

mjlo@timescolonist.com

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