HONOUR THROUGH SERVICE

Mark MacIntyre
June 13, 2014
By Mark MacIntyre
The Victoria Police Department (VicPD) will be in the national spotlight this summer when it co-hosts, along with the Canadian Forces Military Police Group, the 109th annual CACP conference August 24 to 27. Victoria is recognized as a world-class destination and capital city of British Columbia. What is less well-known is that is also the centre of business, commerce and entertainment for southern Vancouver Island. Its western neighbour, the Township of Esquimalt, is a vibrant and picturesque community and home base for more than a century to Canada's Pacific Naval Fleet.

The Victoria Police Department (VicPD) will be in the national spotlight this summer when it co-hosts, along with the Canadian Forces Military Police Group, the 109th annual CACP conference August 24 to 27.

Victoria is recognized as a world-class destination and capital city of British Columbia. What is less well-known is that is also the centre of business, commerce and entertainment for southern Vancouver Island. Its western neighbour, the Township of Esquimalt, is a vibrant and picturesque community and home base for more than a century to Canada's Pacific Naval Fleet.

Victoria and Esquimalt together represent about a third of the population of the Capital Regional District, many of its social and recreational hubs and much of its economic activity. This is the jurisdiction that comprises VicPD's area of responsibility.

The 243 sworn members and more than 100 civilian staff and volunteers who serve with VicPD are excited at the opportunity to showcase the department to police officers from across Canada. That pride is, in part, a function of the department's rich past as Canada's oldest police agency west of the Great Lakes. It also reflects the innovative community work that continues to pay dividends for residents.

{A rich and colourful heritage}

In July 1858, BC Governor James Douglas appointed a commissioner of police and authorized him to hire "a few strong men with good character." This colonial force was referred to as the Victoria Metropolitan Police and was the forerunner of the VicPD.

Prior to this, policing had evolved on Vancouver Island from an armed militia style known as the "Victoria Voltigeurs" through to the hiring of one single "town constable" in 1854. By 1860, the fledgling police department has grown to 12 constables, a sanitary officer, night watchman and jailer.

The original police station and barracks were located in Bastion Square in what is now downtown Victoria. The men wore military-style uniforms, carried batons and were only allowed revolvers when given a warrant to serve. In the early days, the officers dealt mainly with drunk and disorderly conduct, assaults, deserters and vagrancy. People were also charged with being "rogues," "vagabonds" and being of "unsound mind." Reckless driving on public streets and impaired driving of horse and wagon were also fairly common.

The department, now with a strength of 21 officers, moved to new headquarters in City Hall in the 1880s and in 1888 became the first Western Canada police agency to use mug shots for criminal identification.

The department acquired a horse-drawn patrol wagon in 1905 so offenders no longer had to be "dragged down the street" or taken to jail in "hired hacks." Officers of the day had to deal with various crimes and complaints. For example, Emily Carr, a renowned Canadian artist, complained of boys shooting in her yard.

Another resident reported that the bellowing of a cow a neighbour kept in the basement disturbed his family. Even allowing thistles to come to flower was an offence and officers were instructed to "keep a sharp look-out."

There were 54 men in the department by 1910, including officers, jailers and desk clerks. Beat officers covered an area of just over seven square miles. Victoria Police bought its first motorized patrol wagon in 1918 and later moved to a new police station on Fisgard Street. The department's latest move was in 1996, when it moved into a new state-of-the-art facility on Caledonia Avenue, where it remains today.

As local areas became incorporated, VicPD re-defined its area to what is now the City of Victoria and Township of Esquimalt. The Esquimalt Police Department amalgamated with VicPD in 2003.

{Innovation and progress}

Today VicPD is a regional and provincial leader on social issues, drug addition, homelessness and mental illness and has formed innovative partnerships with stakeholders who seek creative solutions to these issues. It continues to be a member of the successful Victoria Integrated Court, which serves as the region's assertive community treatment, and the Victoria Integrated Community Outreach Team.

VicPD was the first Canadian police department to unveil a fully interactive mobile police application. MobileVicPD was launched in October 2013 after months of development and was specifically designed to enhance service delivery. It allows community members to stay up to date with all the latest information, including news releases, job postings and all of VicPD's social media channels. 

The app also allows citizens to "track crime" with the Crime Reports software and report crimes online through online reporting. One of the greatest public safety features is "Alerts," which allows officers to notify the public of important information or request assistance in ongoing investigations. It has been used several times to assist with finding missing elderly people. Community feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Another recent advancement is the Crime Reduction Unit (CRU), which began last year. It quickly left its mark on those that would steal and trade in stolen property. From the recovery of priceless and irreplaceable church artifacts taken from Christ Church Cathedral to the consistent arrests of high-profile criminals and the seizure of drugs and guns, the CRU has been dedicated to reuniting people with their stolen property.

Many CRU recoveries can be found on VicPD's Pinterest Board, "Is This Yours?," where stolen property is publicly posted in an effort to reunite it with its rightful owners.

{Commitment to community: Yesterday and today}

Throughout the years, the key to successfully policing Victoria and Esquimalt has been a strong connection between the department and the community it serves. VicPD emerged as a national leader in community-based policing in the 1980s when it opened the first of five community substations in 1987. Operated by sworn members and volunteers, they were a vital link with the community.

The locations of the stations have changed over the years, reflecting a continuing commitment to provide the best possible service while working within the constraints of tight budgets. While this system of small satellite stations is no longer employed, our commitment to a strong and meaningful commitment to the community has remained unchanged.

Today, VicPD continues to make great strides in its efforts to connect with the community through crime prevention, public affairs and social media efforts. The department has embraced a wide array of innovative engagement methods to ensure neighbourhoods, businesses and residents are heard when they have public safety concerns or suggestions to improve the community.

VicPD also remains committed to proactively offering crime prevention information to businesses and residents. The department's award-winning social media efforts continue to be tremendously successful and, with the public's help, have resulted in positive case outcomes.

In addition to the efforts of uniformed officers, VicPD's 88 volunteers donate thousands of hours of time for crime prevention and safety initiatives through the Crime Watch program. Volunteers are the first friendly faces the public encounters at VicPD's front desk and museum.

Fifty reserve constables contribute countless hours to numerous community initiatives and work alongside officers every day.

Finally, VicPD recently launched a newly redesigned crime prevention web site (www.vicpd.ca) that encourages residents to get involved to improve their communities. It invites residents to become more engaged in their neighbourhoods by "working together to create the safest region in Canada," which is the main objective of the department's Strategic Plan 2020.

Through both innovative technology and proven community outreach, officers and staff continue to honour the department's past while embracing the opportunities that lie ahead.

{Q&A with the chief}

Prior to his appointment as VicPD Chief Constable on Jan. 1, 2014, Frank J. Elsner served with the RCMP, OPP and the Thunder Bay, Owen Sound and Greater Sudbury police services.

Q: What were your first thoughts when you learned you would become chief?

A: I was thrilled and still am. I really enjoyed my time as chief in Sudbury and am proud of what we accomplished during my tenure. At the same time, I jumped at the chance to join VicPD. The department has a nation-wide reputation for innovation and community-based policing and I am very much looking forward to this new challenge.

Q: Are there any similarities in policing between Victoria and Sudbury?

A: I think there are more commonalities than differences. In terms of policing, I think both the Victoria and Sudbury police services have been very effective in listening to their communities, fighting property crime, working with service providers to tackle the issues of homelessness and addiction and ensuring the economic viability of our downtown areas.

Q: How will you approach the tougher social issues?

A: If, as a community, we can make gains in tackling the issue of homelessness, many other issues will also be positively affected. That is why we are working towards having our police service as a full partner with a myriad of agencies that work day and night to deal with the social disorder issues, such as homelessness. The same goes for other vulnerable groups, including sex trade workers, those struggling with addictions to alcohol or drugs and the mentally ill.  We can't "arrest ourselves" out of these problems; we have to work with partners to achieve lasting solutions.

Q: What are your immediate priorities?

A: My highest priority has been getting to know the members of the VicPD team and hearing from the communities of Victoria and Esquimalt. I'm now really understanding the issues that matter to our residents and we're taking concrete steps to address them.

Q: Do you miss anything about policing in Ontario?

A: I miss a lot of the people I worked with and got to know, respect and count on through the years. However, the snow I can do without!

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

Subscription Centre

 
New Subscription
 
Already a Subscriber
 
Customer Service
 
View Digital Magazine Renew

Most Popular

Marketplace