There’ll be a heightened police presence in the West End during the Olympics to safeguard the queer community against potential homophobic incidents, says Insp John deHaas of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
DeHaas and the VPD’s Deputy Chief Const Steve Sweeney gave that assurance to members of the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee at a Jan 5 meeting to discuss the queer community’s concerns about safety during the Games.
“We thought nobody has really had a chat with the VPD regarding safety for the queer community when [the Olympics] happens,” says Ron Stipp, a member of the queer advisory committee, who attended the meeting with fellow committee members Drew Dennis, Steven RodRozen and Jim Deva.
“There’s going to be a lot of people coming into town, and we just wanted to make sure that they had taken our needs into account,” Stipp adds.
He says the committee asked deHaas and Sweeney how police would deal with homophobic incidents if they occurred, particularly if it involved Olympic visitors.
“The police assured us that they would deal with it in a really progressive way and also communicate with people in the community, like myself and Jim Deva, so we could help with the situation as it happens,” Stipp says.
“We don’t want this escalating into a ridiculous thing.”
DeHaas says the committee reminded him and Sweeney that many people would be coming from “areas of the world where policy or law is homophobic.”
“[VPD officers] need to be aware that perhaps someone will come from a part of the world where the openness which we have in our society is foreign to them, and they may behave in a way that’s not acceptable here,” deHaas points out.
He says the plan is to ensure that Vancouver police are “sensitive to what could transpire,” and communicate Canadian values of acceptance.
DeHaas says it was good to have that reminder from the committee because we “keep thinking a little bit too locally.”
He says the advisory committee members also raised concerns about spillover from the Granville entertainment district during the Olympic period, especially in the evenings.
“The Deputy [Sweeney] just conveyed that there will be more police presence on the ground,” deHaas says.
“I don’t know the specific numbers,” he admits, “but we’re fielding a heck of a lot more personnel out on to the streets — on foot and in cars citywide — particularly in those areas where we expect people to congregate, so downtown for sure, and on the Eastside,” he elaborates.
“[The police] really wanted to keep us a part of the overall plan of safety in the city,” adds Stipp, confirming that Sweeney and deHaas assured there would be “a real presence and people would notice it.”
“They’ll be part of the community, which is something I’ve been advocating for, for years,” adds Stipp, who is also co-founder of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE).
Stipp, who described the one-hour-plus meeting with police as “really positive,” says he also asked whether there’d be a more visible beat cop presence in the West End once the Olympics are over.
“I did raise this with deHaas and I said, ‘You know we’ve been asking for this for years.’
“And he acknowledged that,” Stipp says.
“He said this was just for the Olympics, and of course the communication is always open,” Stipp adds.
Stipp says he will continue to push for a more visible police presence once the Games end.
“Personally, I think it’s a great idea,” deHaas agrees.
“I think everybody agrees it would be good to have those officers out there,” he adds.
It really comes down to cost and the myriad demands being placed on the VPD, deHaas indicates.
“There’s a lot of different communities that have needs,” he points out.
“I think it’s tearing between all the other demands on the department and dollars availability, and would that be the best use of those [police officers] overall,” deHaas adds.
He believes there’s improved reporting of bashings and says it’s important for people to continue reporting such incidents.
DeHaas says he’s awaiting results of a survey done on Sunset Beach after the Pride parade last year that may provide answers to questions about the rate of under-reporting.
“You need something to say, ‘Look, it’s really important we deploy those resources,'” he emphasizes.
“I think we’re still scrambling a bit. It comes down to we need some solid information, which isn’t sitting in our police records,” he admits.
That information has to come from research, deHaas says.
“If we find out a bit more about times and occurrences and circumstances, then we can say clearly that strategy of putting police officers on the ground at [a particular] location during these times is very important — a business case, if you will,” he concludes.