Saanich to join Island major crime unit

Municipality faces tax hike for police department to join specialized investigative unit

The Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit (VIIMCU) could soon take on a broader geographic role with four members from the Saanich Police Department joining the team.

The announcement came at Monday night’s Saanich council meeting from Mayor Frank Leonard, who also chairs the Saanich police board.

“This is consistent with our philosophy. We really want a strong, community-based department, and that’s the front end of policing, but we’ve always looked for ways that the support and specialized services be integrated,” Leonard said.

The agreement will see three uniformed officers and one civilian employee join the Island-wide unit. Those lost positions will be backfilled, Leonard says.

Sgt. Dean Jantzen, speaking on behalf of Chief Const. Mike Chadwick, says the removal of three investigative officers from the department will not adversely affect Saanich residents.

“We will not be compromising our investigative capacity,” he said.

Under an existing contract, the Saanich police department investigates many crimes that occur in Oak Bay. Once approved, VIIMCU will cover major crimes in Saanich and Oak Bay.

“Our understanding is Saanich’s decision to join VIIMCU means we’re going ot be taken into the fold,” said Oak Bay deputy police chief Kent Thom. Oak Bay is not contributing officers to the unit.

Leonard says while the decision to join VIIMCU was up to Chadwick, the chief still needs the blessing of the Saanich police board and council, come budget season next year. Taxpayers will be on the hook for an estimated $400,000 per year as part of joining VIIMCU.

“That’s almost half a per cent of a tax increase,” the mayor said. “Sometimes (council) will be split at the municipal budget side on decisions that are $5,000 and $6,000. This is (financially) a difficult decision.”

Jantzen said there is no specific rationale for deciding to join the team in 2013, other than that VIIMCU now has a proven investigative track record elsewhere on the island.

“It’s not that we’ve been ignoring (VIIMCU) up to now. We’ve been watching what they’re doing,” he said. “When you drill right down, rather than the chief asking for (money in the budget for) four new constables, he asked to join this unit to invest in this increased investigative capacity.”

Rumours have been circulating for years about Saanich police joining VIIMCU. In November 2011, Jantzen told the News that talks were underway.

“There’s been no dramatic change in philosophy … we’ve reviewed this on a yearly basis since (VIIMCU’s) inception,” he said in 2011. “We now believe the factors exist where there is a net benefit to our community.”

Eighteen officers currently make up the integrated unit, formed in 2007. Six come from Victoria, two from the West Shore RCMP, and the remaining 10 are from various Island RCMP detachments.

Unsolved major crimes in Saanich – like the 2008 murder of Lindsay Buziak – won’t be taken over by VIIMCU for investigation.

While no firm dates have been set, Leonard anticipates Saanich officers will be part of the unit in early 2013.

– with files from Black Press

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

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