Victoria police board member resigns, claiming lack of transparency and oversight of force

'I feel I do not have independent access [to the] needed information to ensure that the public gets an efficient police force,' said Paul Schachter in his resignation speech. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC - image credit)
'I feel I do not have independent access [to the] needed information to ensure that the public gets an efficient police force,' said Paul Schachter in his resignation speech. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC - image credit)

A member of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board has stepped down, citing concerns about a lack of access to information and the limited ability of the board to provide oversight of police operations.

"There is need for greater transparency and analysis" within the Victoria Police Department (VicPD), said Paul Schachter, a former lawyer and anti-racism advocate, in his resignation speech at a Nov. 15 board meeting.

"I feel I do not have independent access [to the] needed information to ensure that the public gets an efficient police force," said Schachter, who had served on the board since March 2021.

His resignation, which will take effect Nov. 30, follows calls for transformation to the model for policing in the province.

An April 2022 report of the special committee on reforming the police, appointed by the B.C. Legislature, recommended 11 changes to the Police Act to enhance oversight and transparency, among other things.

Schachter said police boards require more information about how operations are conducted to determine if the force is using its resources effectively.

VicPD's budget rose from $50.3 million in 2016 to $63.9 million in 2022. It accounts for 23 per cent of the City of Victoria's overall municipal budget.

"I'm not saying this is overfunding or underfunding. But it's not clear … how this increase has had an effect on crime reduction or public safety," Schachter told the board.

Schachter also raised concerns about the board's ability to influence and provide oversight on policies that affect vulnerable communities.

These include the practice of conducting street checks, how de-escalation tactics are used during mental health calls and the duty of officers to intervene when witnessing the unlawful conduct of other police officers.

Schachter said he has been raising the issue of street checks in Victoria since his appointment began.

"Police board members can have conversations, we can raise issues, but we ultimately don't influence the operational policy," Schachter said.

Issues go beyond Victoria

Schachter said the issues of oversight and transparency are not unique to the VicPD but are reflective of "systemic and structural" problems in police governance across the province.

"The critiques I've raised are directed at policies rather than the members' unquestionable dedication to the public," Schachter said.

Kash Heed, former solicitor general under the B.C. Liberals and former West Vancouver police chief, agrees there is a systemic lack of transparency in police forces across the country.

He'd like to see greater communication between police departments and the public. Without greater information sharing, Heed said the police board role can't be effective.

"It's no longer where the CEO or the chief of police actually determines what's going to be discussed, how it's going to be discussed, what the policy is going to be. It has to be at the board," Heed said.

He added that a resignation of this nature is "very uncommon."

"That is very telling as to the dynamics of the board, to cause someone to go to this extent to resign instead of remaining there trying to make those changes."

Schachter said his decision to step down was ultimately a question of ethics.

"If I can't influence things that I'm supposed to have oversight over, then I don't want to pretend that I can," Schachter said.

Both Schachter and Heed point to the recommendations of the special committee's April report for solutions to these issues and more.

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, who is also the police board's co-chair, agrees.

"There is an evolution in policing that's happening in every urban centre. And I look forward to continuing to work with the board, and with the force … to try to ensure that that evolution here in Victoria is relevant, and it serves the needs of the residents here," Alto said.

CBC News has contacted VicPD Chief Del Manak and police board co-chair Barb Desjardins for comment.