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Province, B.C. RCMP look to expand Vancouver Island's major crime unit

Saanich Police block off an area after an exchange of gunfire at a bank in June 2022. B.C.'s Public Safety Ministry says it's starting preliminary discussions to update and expand the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crimes Unit. (Michael McCarthur/CBC - image credit)
Saanich Police block off an area after an exchange of gunfire at a bank in June 2022. B.C.'s Public Safety Ministry says it's starting preliminary discussions to update and expand the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crimes Unit. (Michael McCarthur/CBC - image credit)

B.C.'s Ministry of Public Safety is looking into expanding the major crimes unit that services most of Vancouver Island in order to deal with a rise in homicides and costs associated with investigating complex cases.

In a written statement, the ministry said it has invited municipalities, First Nations and policing partners on the island to take part in "preliminary consultations" about the unit.

In a letter to Campbell River Mayor Kermit Dahl on Dec. 22, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says he has directed the Policing and Security Branch to the B.C. RCMP in order to look into the possibility of expanding the island's major crimes unit.

"While homicides remain relatively rare events, they have been steadily increasing in the province over the years," Farnworth writes.

"The impact that homicides have on communities are significant and are felt well beyond victims and their families."

'Worthy of exploration'

Most of the island is currently serviced by the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit (VIIMCU), which is comprised of 35 employees and is made up of contributions from the RCMP, Central Saanich Police Service, and the Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria police departments.

VIIMCU investigates homicides and missing persons cases where foul play is suspected.

Chief Const. Dean Duthie with the Saanich Police Department says discussions about the expanded version of VIIMCU are still very much in the preliminary stages, but he's generally supportive of the idea.

"It's definitely worthy of exploration," Duthie told CBC News.

Saanich Police Chief Const. Dean Duthie provides an update about the shootout between two robbery suspects and police during a news conference at the Saanich Police department in Saanich, B.C., on June 29, 2022.
Saanich Police Chief Const. Dean Duthie provides an update about the shootout between two robbery suspects and police during a news conference at the Saanich Police department in Saanich, B.C., on June 29, 2022.

Saanich Police Chief Const. Dean Duthie, pictured here in June 2022, says expanding VIIMCU is worth looking into. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Duthie says the SPD has had a great relationship with VIIMCU, which is mainly made up of investigators. However, he said, VIIMCU doesn't provide services like forensics — those get farmed out to different police departments.

If a homicide happens somewhere like Saanich it's generally not an issue because that police force has a forensics team, he says. But if a major crime happens in a more remote part of the island serviced by a small RCMP detachment, investigators have to ask around for support — a time-consuming process that can delay investigations.

"My understanding is that the proposal is to create a more robust major crime unit integrated that includes all those services in the team," he said.

Ensuring trained officers in all communities

In his letter, Farnworth explains that an expanded service will provide consistent levels of service across the island and will help retain investigators.

"A single major crime unit across the lsland will help ensure there are sufficient numbers of highly trained and skilled officers and civilians dedicated to solving homicides in all communities," Farnworth writes.

He goes on to add that resource costs to conclude complex files are rising. In a written statement to CBC News, the ministry says island communities who are not currently participating in VIIMCU have been calling for its expansion for years.

"While [VIIMCU] has served participating communities well, the time has come to modernize the model and provide the opportunity for all Island municipalities to join a new, expanded, Island-wide integrated unit," Farnworth's letter says.

Representatives from the Police Security Branch will reach out to municipalities on Vancouver Island to start the consultation process, which Farnworth says will begin in early 2024.