4 min

Give us a say

Community rejects police-appointed CPC boards

WE WANT OUR SAY. The West End community told Jim Deva and Vince Marino that they want future input to the board of directors of the Davie St Community Policing Centre. Deva and Marino took the message to the Vancouver Police Board. Credit: Robin Perelle

We don’t want police-appointed advisors calling the shots in our Community Policing Centre (CPC).

That was the message coming out of a recent emergency meeting called by Jim Deva and Vince Marino, two members of the gay safety committee, to talk about the future of community policing in the West End.

The meeting took place just days before Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Chief Jamie Graham presented his CPC restructuring plan to the police board.

Though his plan has yet to be released to the public, Graham is expected to close all but seven of Vancouver’s existing CPCs, and replace the surviving centres’ elected directors with advisors he will choose himself.

It’s a plan that community members found unacceptable.

“A chief-appointed advisory board is a ridiculous concept,” says Ron Stipp, one of about 36 people who attended the Apr 21 emergency meeting. “We’re talking about our community. Those are the people who should be driving community policing-not someone from the [VPD’s] head office on Cambie St.”

Though the Davie CPC is expected to survive the coming cut, its independent, elected board of directors is not. No one knows who Graham will appoint in its place, nor how the selection will take place.

But at least one board member says he doesn’t want to become an advisor.

“I don’t want to advise. I want to work as a partner to solve problems,” says Deva, who joined the CPC board last year. “If community policing is going to work at any level, it has to involve the community and the police working in partnership.”

Deva is worried that under the new model-with its VPD-appointed board, its VPD-appointed office coordinator and its VPD-funded services-the community will lose its partnership status and its ability to help shape policing priorities in the West End.

“My worst fear is that the CPCs will just turn into precincts run by the VPD without the partnership of the community,” he says.

In a recent interview with Xtra West, Graham said that his new CPC advisors would be directly accountable to the police hierarchy rather than to the community. He also said the VPD will have a strong say in management and priorities of the surviving CPCs. All new programs will have “a strong component of police opinion,” he said.

“It sounds like a different model in terms of community involvement but I can assure you there’s nothing nefarious to be read into this,” Graham added.

The participants at the emergency meeting didn’t sound so sure.

It may be too late to stop Graham from dissolving the CPCs’ independent boards of directors, but there’s still time to shape how the chief chooses their replacements, Deva told the meeting.

It took almost two hours, but the 36 participants finally reached a consensus. First and foremost, the community needs to have a say in who is going to sit on these new CPC boards, they agreed. The members can’t just be appointed by the VPD.

And the boards need to truly represent their communities, the participants added.

But how?

The new boards could consist of one member from each of several local community organizations, Deva and Marino suggested. That means one representative from the seniors’ network, another from the West End residents’ association, another from the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) and another from a gay group.

Membership could also be broadened to include youth, street people, more ethnic groups and dumpster divers, they added.

Though many participants appreciated the attempt to represent a broad cross-section of the community, Stipp worried about submerging the gay community’s voice in that model.

“One [gay] representative is not enough,” he said. The gay voice would get watered-down, and the board would fail to reflect the demographics of the community it’s supposed to represent. The gay community is a significant part of the West End population, he notes.

Deva and Marino quickly amended the model to include more than one representative for the larger community groups, including the gay community. Stipp later said he felt listened to and satisfied.

But Deva says providing more gay representation is not his first priority. “The gay community has been very vocal on policing” issues in the last year, he says. “We’ve done remarkably well.”

Now it’s time to reach out to other groups in the neighbourhood who are still voiceless. “We’ve got to be at the very forefront to make sure that all groups are represented at the table,” he says. “We know about being disenfranchised. We know how destructive that is. We have to reach out. We can’t just represent the gay community.”

Mischa Irwin, who also attended the meeting, agrees. It’s important to be inclusive, says the new member of the Pride Society. “We need to find ways to reach out” to all West End residents and encourage them to participate in policing, too.

Marino backs him up. “This crosses all boundaries, all lines,” he says.

Still, the participants had trouble finalizing a specific model for their new CPC boards. Some suggested adding a few seats for members at large; others asked how the community organizations would select their representatives.

In the end, they agreed on the need for community input and decided to take more time to figure out exactly how that input should occur.

Deva isn’t surprised. “It’s a very complex issue and it’s not going to be resolved in one meeting,” he says.

The community needs more time to think about it, agrees Marino. That’s why he’s hoping the chief will postpone making any final decisions about the new CPC boards until the community gets a chance to formulate its own suggestions.

This whole restructuring process should have been a partnership between the community and the VPD, Marino says. Though Graham met with the CPCs’ directors to discuss his plans, he did not invite the community at large to participate in the process.

Now Marino’s hoping the chief will accept his and Deva’s last-minute suggestion to conduct a broader consultation-or at least to give the West End community more time to solidify its own recommendations.

“The police cannot say ‘we want to be in partnership with the community’ and then not consult the community,” Marino says.

Deva will present the community’s suggestions to a special police board meeting Apr 28, as Xtra West goes to press.

The meeting was originally billed as a public meeting but the board later clarified that members of the public will not be invited to speak. The board reserved that privilege for official CPC delegates only. That means Marino will help prepare the presentation but won’t be able to speak.