Policing the Land of Millionaires

Written by Harold McNeill on September 19th, 2011. Posted in Police Notebook

Oak Bay

Photo (Web).  Aerial view looking south over Oak Bay towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State.

Over the century since incorporation, the Municipality of Oak Bay gained a reputation as having more millionaires per capita than any other city or town in Canada.  Whether that is true or not, the Municipality certainly exudes a sense of affluence and boasts some of the Oak Bay Millionairesmost pristine waterfront of any city or town in the country.

Stately Gary Oaks line the streets, quaint shops dot Oak Bay Avenue and citizens are provided access to some of the best recreation and senior citizen programs in the city. The list of benefits is nearly endless and each is highly valued by the 18,000 residents that call Oak Bay home.

Situated on the extreme south-eastern tip of Vancouver Island, Oak Bay has year-round mild weather – a location where flowers bloom winter long, and where, with only the occasional exception, golfers hit the links every month of the year. ‘Tea and crumpets’ holds top billing at Starbucks, but sadly, for the police members, Tim Horton’s has not yet broken into the yuppie market that defines Oak Bay.

As most of the land base in Oak Bay was almost fully developed by the middle of the last century, the population has remained fairly static at an estimated 16,000 in the 1960s (when I began policing) to little more than 18,000 today – not exactly exponential growth. 

Most of that small increase was due to replacing residential properties with apartment buildings or rezoning other properties to multiple family dwellings. As has the population has remained fairly stable, so to has the number of sworn police officers – expanding from 16 in 1960s, to 24 in 2010.

Map of Oak BayAffluent or not, the citizens of Oak Bay and their small police force have faced and continue to face many of the same problems faced by most cities and towns across Canada as demonstrated by the world-wide attention given to one recent, particularly horrendous, crime. It was only a few decades early that Constable Al Campbell and I investigated another murder only a few hundred feet from the scene of that crime.

In Oak Bay, property crimes such as Break, Enter and Theft, from 1960 through to the late 1980s (a time of rapidly increasng crime rates) were likely as high as, or higher than, many similar sized communities. Neither did affluence act as a barrier to family breakdown, youthful misadventure or a myriad of other non-criminal matters into which police are regularly drawn.

By way of comparison to Victoria – if one removed most of the late evening street rowdiness following bar closures and other disruptive street behaviours typical of a busy downtown core, Victoria Police would be left dealing with calls very similar to those experienced throughout the region.

As you will see when reading the stories in this series, Oak Bay Officers were afforded a unique opportunity to become deeply involved in all aspects of policing. While police members in larger forces tend to specialize (e.g. traffic, general patrol, fraud, detective office, records, fraud, identification section, etc.), members in smaller municipal forces, by necessity, must become ‘generalists’ and, with as few as two or three members per shift, responsible for every type of call that might arise during a shift, a situation not dissimilar to that experienced in hundreds of smaller communities across Canada.

As generalists, most Oak Bay officers, at one time or another, were required to investigate from beginning to end, criminal offences including murder, rape, abduction, drug trafficking and cultivation, assault, criminal negligence, impaired driver and a variety of other serious crimes. As well, every officer was simultaneously responsible for all traffic matters up to and including fatalities.

No member of the department, including the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief and NOCs, were off the call list when needed, therefore every officer had to acquire and maintain a wide range of policing skills as well as become regularly involved community policing strategies. No one could sit back and assume that someone else would take on specialized investigation such as fraud, historical sexual assault, etc..

However, the overwhelming advantage of having their own police, as is the case in many smaller communities that employ their own “home grown” force, was the close relationship developed between the police and the citizens paying for that service. Regular contact with the Mayor, Council, Police Board members, businessmen and woman and other citizens, by all ranks within the department, insured there was no sense that any police member or citizen was just a small cog in a big wheel. Each member of the police force, within the limits of rank, could significantly affect policing outcomes and all persons could be guaranteed direct access to department members, up to and including the Chief Constable.

Community Policing

Community Policing, as practiced in Oak Bay, Central Saanich, Saanich and, until a few years back, in Esquimalt, is an aspect of policing that in larger cities is difficult to accomplish. This is Oak Bay Mobile Officenot because officers in the larger cities are over-burdened, but related more to an organizational structure that takes many officers away from the street and assigns them to law enforcement pockets or career specializations from which they seldom deign to stray.

As a result those officers are usually unable or, more likely, unwilling to attend anything but the most serious calls outside their specialty field. Community policing is left to a few officers assigned to that specific task.

Within the Capital Region, Victoria police officers are particularly susceptible this policing challenge. This may be due, in part, because they have come to believe their own press releases about how overburdened they are and in part, because the Victoria media has often seized upon occasional regional policing challenges, to beat the drum of amalgamation.

Strangely, amalgamation has seldom, if ever, been discussed in terms of folding Victoria and the twelve municipal governments into one political entity; only the police that have been singled out for that distinct honour.

While amalgamation of the police may provide a few benefits, the loss of a community based service in Oak Bay, Saanich and Central Saanich would be significant. This is no better demonstrated than with Esquimalt experience since having opted to contract their police service to the City of Victoria.

For those policed by the RCMP in Sidney, North Saanich and the West Shore, continuous turnover of personnel is an ongoing reality. With administrative systems based in a remote HQ, accountability at the local or even provincial level, as noted in dozens of high profile cases over the past several years, is almost negligible. This is not the least bit surprising as the RCMP structure is much better suited to federal police work than for policing cities and towns.

The relative merits of amalgamating area police forces or the full amalgamation of all local governments in the region, is discussed in the next post.

Harold McNeill
September 2011





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  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold