Regional policing debate creates uncertainty for West Vancouver's new public safety building
The ongoing debate about whether Greater Vancouver should move to an amalgamated policing model is a concern for those now involved in planning the new joint police and fire station.
In discussions with top police and fire brass, district staff have been exploring three distinct design options for the public safety building adjoining West Vancouver district hall.
The third option — “Scenario C” — has emerged as an early frontrunner for a few reasons, not least of which is the flexibility it affords in the event that its primary tenant, the West Vancouver Police Department, is suddenly no more.
“You’re always going to have a fire hall there of one type or another,” Inspector Barry Nickerson of the WVPD told a Feb. 28 meeting of the police board. “You may not have a police department. We don’t know that.”
His comments came just one week after the Vancouver police board announced its support for a regional force, and one month since Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson pushed for the idea to be made an issue in the May provincial election.
The issue is, after all, a discussion that Victoria must take the lead on before local RCMP detachments and municipal forces like the WVPD can have their say.
But, Nickerson said, a future in which the WVPD is a relic of the past is a real possibility which West Van planners are preparing for as the police department readies its move from the outdated 1300-block Marine Drive headquarters.
“If all of the sudden you were told by the provincial government that no longer are you going to have your own police department,” Nickerson said, “then you need to have those options available for that capital project you just invested a lot of time in to re-purpose that facility, if, for example, we didn’t exist here in five years, 10 years, 15 or 20 years.
“That had to be taken into account in the overall massing design,” he added.
While an amalgamated North Shore police force has been kicked around as an idea for years, the idea of a single uniform covering all of Metro Vancouver, including the North Shore, recently came to prominence as one of 63 recommendations made by Commissioner Wally Oppal in his report from the Missing Women’s Inquiry last year.
On the question of a Metro-wide force, WVPD Chief Peter Lepine reiterated his long held position that, while he doesn’t believe a Metro force is needed, if the powers that be call for one, he’ll be ready to help lead the transition.
“I think the whole issue of a regional police service, in today’s environment, in 2013, is not necessary,” Lepine said. “But that’s a political discussion.”
The WVPD chief said he believes the media has put too much emphasis on Commissioner Oppal’s regional policing recommendation, while all but ignoring the 62 other recommendations in the December 2012 report.
In the meantime, Vancouver-based DIALOG architects were awarded the bid to design the 57,000-square-foot public safety building. The $36-million post-disaster building will replace the police station and West Vancouver Fire Hall #1, neither of which are likely to withstand a major earthquake, according to the district.
If all goes according to plan, the public safety building could be ready by 2016.