2 min

Can we trust our police?

Force works to improve relationship

In one short year the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee has changed from a beached whale to a proactive force in the community, according to its chair Cynthia Cousens.

And the most proactive step may result in a police force which boasts members from minority communities all over the city, including the gay community.

The committee held its 10th annual general meeting on Jun 16, where Cousens reported that a lot has been accomplished in the past year, including developing a revitalized administrative structure more reflective of the community and having GLBT issues introduced at the Police College level.

Cousens, who is in her final few months as chair, admitted from the beginning of her term that the committee was not doing its job. She said it’s a shame that it took something like the murder of Chris Raynsford in November to give both the community and the committee a wake-up call.

Cousens feels the Liaison Committee has never really given the police the recognition they deserve. “I knew from the very beginning that the work the Ottawa police were doing to develop a community relationship was genuine. It was positive and they were trying their best, and I don’t think many people have given them any recognition for that.”

One indication of the effort police are making is the Outreach Recruitment Program. The program, which will actively recruit members from all communities including GLBT, has finally been given the green light.

Sgt Syd Gravel says this is a great opportunity for the police to reach out to the community and encourage them to consider a career with the Ottawa Police Service.

“The new recruitment initiative is important because for the first time in as long as I have been a police officer, we can now reach out to attract applicants rather than letting them just filter in by chance,” says Gravel.

Gravel says it doesn’t take a great leap to realize that there are many people out there who may not be applying because of ill-founded rumors or because they do not feel welcomed. “For many years I have heard people say I never applied because I am black or gay or wasn’t bilingual,” says Gravel. “The Outreach program is meant to open the doors that some people have closed on themselves because they felt unwanted or they didn’t have the right stuff.”

Gravel says feedback to the program has been overwhelmingly positive from all directions. In fact Gravel says he has received several calls and e-mails from other policing services that are very anxious to see how well Ottawa does.

Gravel says it’s vital that a police service reflects all members of the community. “Without a doubt a police service, more than any other service, needs links to all communities. Otherwise there may be a perception of a specific community thinking or believing that they are not being served or protected well,” he says. “The greater our diversity, the greater our ability to police and protect the community as a whole.”

Gravel admits there is still lots of work to do but is confident that the recruitment program will be successful, especially since with early retirement and amalgamation several hundred officers will need to be hired over the next five years.

But Cousens still feels that the committee has to continue its efforts to encourage the community to report crimes.

“I was talking to people who say they never reported the assaults because they were scared to because they didn’t know what would happen, how the officers would react,” says Cousens. “It’s not up to the police to convince our people to call. It’s up to our Liaison Committee and our community to encourage each other and ourselves to trust the police and make the calls.”

*For anyone interested in a career in policing you may contact Sgt Syd Gravel at 236-1222 ext. 2905.