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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Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]

  • Harold McNeill

    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

    I’ve copied just one sentence from Mulligan’s longer discussion, “And I think people don’t like the idea that somebody who’s, for example, was drunk and ran into you and you become a quadriplegic is going to be treated exactly the same way you would in terms of getting benefits (go to minute 00:15:26 to see his full comment)

    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    January 5, 2020 |

    […] 28. The past as a guide to the future (Part III): Over the past 60 years, many activities the police once performed as a natural part of their daily duty, eventually became incompatible with achieving their basic goals. What happened? (August 2019) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories Why I stand with science? - McNeill Life Stories

    November 11, 2019 |

    […] During the Ice Age, the Earth’s average temperature was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today. That was enough to keep snow from melting during the summers in northern regions. As snow fell on the snow, glaciers formed. (NASA Earth Observatory) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories How to Game an Election - McNeill Life Stories

    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]