For some things, you only get a chance for real change once every generation or so. Major changes to the style of policing, for example. Though the public seems to know that big changes are needed in the way Vancouver is policed, it seems the police force itself is loathe to catch up with developments in democratic policing.
In the next few weeks, the city’s top cop, Chief Constable Jamie Graham, will announce his proposals for changes. He says they’ll enhance community policing.
I say they’re a blue-wash. Worse, they’re a step back-there would be less community involvement in setting police priorities under Graham’s plan than there is now.
That’s unacceptable and he needs to be told to get back to the drawing board.
Under Graham’s plan, some community policing centres (CPCs) will disappear. The remainder will come firmly under the control of police. The independent boards of directors, elected by and made up of neighbours, will disappear. At the moment, there is at least the possibility of community members having at least a minimal measure of influence on at least a small portion of the way that their neighbourhood is policed.
Vancouver’s gay and lesbian communities have just begun to try to influence policing priorities in the West End and on Commercial Drive through getting involved in their neighbourhood CPCs. Our priorities are sometimes different than the priorities of others-putting significant resources into stopping street violence and gay-bashing, for example.
Graham’s clear: under his proposed changes, the neighbourhood will be disempowered and the CPCs will turn their attention to priorities set by the police department.
Perhaps the chief didn’t notice that a whole bunch of women were murdered in the Downtown Eastside because police pursued their own priorities. For years, police denied there was anything even amiss in that neighbourhood, even after activists started demanding attention be paid to the issue. Clearly, we need improved community involvement in policing.
Perhaps the chief didn’t notice that some relatively new cops, with less than five years experience, are under investigation for allegedly kidnapping and beating drug dealers. These are the new, better-educated cops that the force has been boasting about. Clearly, it’s time to look at recruiting.
Perhaps the chief is unaware that many of the visible minority and sexual minority communities in this city feel targetted by police. Vietnamese-Canadians, Indo-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, blacks, Latino-Canadians, urban First Nations, prostitutes, the impoverished, SM practitioners, and the leather community-all share horror stories and their distrust of police. This is an urgent problem, with systemic causes, and it won’t be solved by minimal change accompanied by maximum public relations propaganda. Clearly, more diversity training, which has been slashed in recent years, is needed.
Perhaps the chief doesn’t understand the history, including recent history, of the police relationship with gays and lesbians. Cops in this city used to beat us up. For the last dozen years, they ignored our safety needs and considered that major progress. Then Aaron Webster was killed. Our community insists, we absolutely insist, that violence be made a policing priority in our neighbourhoods. We insist that we be involved, in genuine partnerships that set policing priorities in our neighbourhoods.
Police in Vancouver must learn to share their power with the people they are sworn to protect.
In the recent municipal election, the winning COPE party promised genuine community policing would be implemented in Vancouver. Graham’s proposals are far from that. Perhaps the chief would consider reading the lessons David Bayley learned from researching policing in five countries for his book, Police for the Future?
Our community should join with other communities that have suffered from less than satisfactory policing and build alliances for change. COPE, and particularly Mayor Larry Campbell, should tell the chief that he’s heading in the wrong direction.
There needs to be more genuine community input. Real partnerships. No more public relations scams.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.