The Township of Esquimalt will have a new policing arrangement after 2023, after council voted unanimously Monday not to renew the framework agreement between the municipalities of Victoria, Esquimalt and their joint police board.
The agreement – which lays out the division of budgeting and resources between the municipalities and sees the Victoria Police Department operate and staff an office in Esquimalt – expires Dec. 31, 2023.
Mayor Barbara Desjardins pointed to financial difficulties the model has created for the smaller municipality over the years, including an operating cost per officer that is the highest in the Capital Regional District, according to the township.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” the mayor said in a release. “However, this is not a sudden or new problem – Esquimalt has been burdened by this model for many years.
Council is looking at all options with safety, costs and fairness in mind.”
The decision and formal notice of Esquimalt’s decision to not renew the agreement does not necessarily mean VicPD won’t be policing the township after its expiration. As the creation of an amalgamated force was mandated by provincial order-in-council in 2002, undoing that amalgamation requires approval from the province.
As part of Monday’s decision, Esquimalt council directed staff to undertake a request for proposals to secure a consultant to propose one or more police service delivery models.
Development of a transition plan, as well as a public engagement strategy, will make up part of the consultant’s work. The RFP will be made public Wednesday (Aug. 17). The township is also requesting $150,000 from the province to prepare a proposal for a policing model and transition plan.
While both councils and the police board worked hard to make the arrangement work, Desjardins said in a statement the decision-making remained difficult.
“The fact remains that two municipalities are making decisions on one budget, regardless of their vastly different needs and it’s challenging on both sides. This issue represents a significant amount of Esquimalt taxpayers’ money that could be used on a variety of projects of benefit to the community. Given that we are at the end of the current agreement, it would be irresponsible to not do our due diligence in considering all our police servicing options.”
Results from public engagement done last spring gauged residents’ attitudes and wishes relating to police services and on six recommendations for moving forward. The township stated that 74 per cent of respondents support council in its strategic priority to further review policing service delivery options.
VicPD Chief Const. Del Manak voiced disappointment with the decision, noting in a statement that the department’s officers are “deeply committed to serving the residents of Esquimalt and have built a high level of trust and engagement with the community.”
He called the decision a “cost-saving measure” that does not reflect the quality of policing.
“Our officers have provided an excellent level of police service and have developed strong community connections,” he said. “We know how much Esquimalt residents value these connections, from the positive interactions we have with them every day, and the feedback we receive on our annual community survey.”
City of Victoria head of engagement Bill Eisenhauer said the formal notice from Esquimalt will prompt the city to also consider next steps in discussions with Esquimalt, the police board and the province.
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