Residents of the West End and members of the city’s gay community may be seeing some changes in the way the Vancouver Police Department relates to them over the next few months.
The West End Community Policing Centre (CPC), currently located in the Shoppers’ Drug Mart on Davie St, recently elected a new board of directors and welcomed back lesbian Const Cheryl Leggett as its neighbourhood police officer. It continues to look for a new executive director, and has narrowed the field to two candidates; a decision is expected at the end of the month. Former executive director Pam Dudoward stepped down in June after less than a year on the job.
Meanwhile, the CPC is also continuing its search for a new permanent location, having moved down the hill to Davie near Denman St and back again in the last 14 months.
The new board, still led by president Vince Marino, boasts six new faces on its nine-person governing body. Marino has high hopes for the board, among them the ability to respond to the community’s needs.
“Our main goals are to re-establish ourselves in this new location, with a new executive director, and to look at where we should go, and talk with the community to see where they would like us to be moving to,” Marino says.
The CPC’s current location remains a preferred option to many in the community.
“In the long term, I really believe that the Community Policing Centre needs to stay in the Davie Village to protect people in our community, including queers and seniors,” Ron Stipp, of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere, told Xtra West in July, after the centre returned to Shoppers.
Queers need a community policing centre in their own neighbourhood, he continued. “Moving to Robson St or Coal Harbour would be detrimental to the community.”
Const Leggett says she’s noticed an increase in interest in the centre since its return to the Davie Village, both from people interested in volunteering, and from citizens with policing needs.
“Since we moved back here, our foot traffic has been non-stop,” she says.
Vance Campbell, who earlier this year replaced Marino as one of several gay representatives on the police chief’s Diversity Advisory Committee, is equivocal about the effect the location of the centre will have on its ability to serve the gay community, but stresses that locating it in the Davie Village may be a better crime deterrent than elsewhere.
“It’s not positive or negative, other than it’s more central,” he says. “However, I don’t think you need to be Einstein to realize that most of the dealing happens at the corner of Davie and Bute and to have it closer to there makes sense.”
Many in the gay community say they’d like the CPC to focus more on addressing gaybashings and hate crimes. The CPC’s programs focus primarily on property crime prevention, panhandlers and general foot patrols.
“I don’t think our fears about gaybashing are exaggerated,” says Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s bookstore and a former president of the CPC board. “We still have to look behind our backs wherever we go. Two people holding hands can create a situation.”
Deva says he’d like to see all police officers, especially those working in the Village, trained to recognize hate-motivated crimes and investigate them accordingly.
But Campbell points to statistics made available at the Diversity Advisory Committee that show a drop in the number of reported gaybashings over the past year.
“We found we had a relatively quiet summer for bashing and more calls from [gay] people in relationships beating each other up,” says Campbell.
That said, Morgan Williams, a volunteer at the CPC, says he experienced violence two weeks ago when walking home with a friend from a bar on Friday night.
“I was jumped by a group of guys that were referring to me and my friend as ‘faggot,'” he says. “The guys were arrested. They got what they deserved.”
Williams is reluctant to characterize the assault as a gaybashing because he and his friend are not gay.
Pat Short says that, ultimately, she still considers the Davie Village a safe neighbourhood.
“There are times I’m coming home late at night, and I’m a little old lady, but I feel safe,” she says. “I personally feel comfortable walking this street at night because of the number of people out.”
Still, Stipp would like to see the CPC open later to be available to gaybashing victims at night.
“They need to be open when people actually need to have the centre open, like in the evenings when it’s busy on Davie St, from 5 pm on during the bar hours,” he says.
The CPC is currently open 9-6 on weekdays, and weekend afternoons. Its directors have not ruled out extending its hours.
“If that’s what they want, it should be brought to the board,” says Leggett. “It exists to serve the community, and if this community sees a need, the board will look at that.”