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West Van police chief’s retirement brings about question of combined North Shore police force
The question of a combined North Shore police force came up again after West Vancouver’s police chief retired this week amid accusations of a toxic work environment at the department.
Currently North Van is part of the RCMP and West Van runs its own force. But, according to some, the departments could run more efficiently if they were combined.
While he hasn’t made up his mind, West Van Mayor Michael Smith says amalgamation could be an option if there were financial and other advantages for the district.
“I personally think there is merit in investigating sharing services… I would like to see that happen,” said Smith at a press conference about police chief Peter Lepine’s retirement.
Lepine’s announcement came a day after media reports of an employee survey with complaints of alleged sexual harassment, racism, bullying and backlash against whistler-blowers.
Both Lepine and Mayor Smith, who is also chairman of the police board, said his retirement has nothing to do with the scathing allegations.
After 35 years as a police officer, Lepine said he has long planned to leave when his contract ends this September. He also said that he did not know about any of the harassment allegations and, if he did, action would have been immediately taken to correct the situation.
But with the negative results of the employee survey completed in 2013, the topic of combining forces has again come to the forefront.
The three North Shore municipalities hired consultancy firm Perivale + Taylor in 2009 to review policing services. A combined North Shore police force was identified as an option the municipalities could take.
According to the report, there would be benefit in consolidating detention facilities, crime analysis and “24-7 uniform deployment.”
Then there is the possible financial benefit of combining forces. Last year in West Van, $13.7 million was allocated for police services for roughly 43,000 people, while North Van’s budget was $15.7 million for 84,000 people.
Protection of property is a main reason for the higher cost, according to the West Van police department.
Still, according to survey completed last year, 32 per cent of residents of West Van say they are “somewhat satisfied” with the service they receive from the force, while 61 per cent say they are “very satisfied.”
In his last seven months on the job, police chief Lepine says he would support West Van’s mayor and council whether or not they want to combine police forces with North Van.
“…The issue of a regional or an integrated police department is a council decision because they pay for policing. They pay for how much or how little policing they want,” he told The Outlook.
“Wherever council wanted to go with that discussion, I was prepared to get them there, I would lead the way.”
At his previous job in Halifax, Nova Scotia he saw the amalgamation of police departments and believes he could use this experience if council needed it.
“I didn’t take the position that we needed to be the only police service in West Vancouver. My job for as long as we are the only police service, is to do the best job possible.”
Allegations against senior management
Lepine says the announcement of his retirement came at an unfortunate time when allegations of harassment within the police force came to light.
“When a police board goes to secure a new police chief that process takes anywhere from six to nine months. I have been having discussions with the board around the succession planning for the department...”
Lepine said he sent his letter of retirement to the board last week before the employee survey was reported by the media.
“The announcement needed to happen now. It’s not like I could have waited until March or April, anytime sooner we were in the Christmas season,” he told The Outlook, adding that if he knew about any harassment allegations within the force immediate action would have been taken.
The employee survey, obtained by The Province, says there is “a moderate-to-strong dissatisfaction and possibly serious disengagement because of some perceived behaviours of senior management...”
The District of West Vancouver received the survey in December and Smith said steps are being taken to address the allegations.
“.... We’ve asked our management team to come forward with an action plan to address the fact that the results are less than satisfactory,” said Smith at a press conference, adding there are no allegations against Lepine.
He said the police department will see personnel changes and a shift in the “culture of the department.”
“We will not tolerate inappropriate behaviour by anybody that’s trusted with a supervisory role in the District of West Vancouver,” he added.
Lepine will end his service in September when his contract is up. The search for a new police chief will begin immediately.