4 min

Police must change approach

Community insists on better training, more involvement

Credit: Robin Perelle

The recent Davie St gaybashings-and their alleged mishandling by the police-“clearly point” to a need for changes in how the police and the community handle violence in the Village, Jim Deva says.

“I’m saddened by what’s happened,” says the gay safety committee’s co-founder, referring to the Jun 29 bashing at the corner of Davie and Hornby Sts and a second attack in front of Stepho’s restaurant less than two weeks later.

“It’s a clear, clear wake-up call. I think we need to get some action.”

And the first step, he says, should be a refresher course in hate crimes for the entire Vancouver Police Department (VPD), “from the chief on down.”

Deva says he’d like to see a mandatory course, for both new recruits and existing officers, on how to recognize a hate crime, how to approach a scene and how to write it up. “So our police officers know what’s going on and the proper way to document a case from the moment they open the [car] door.”

Officers in both the Jun 29 gaybashing, and the more recent one in front of Stepho’s, allegedly refused to take statements from the gays and lesbians at the scene, failed to apprehend any suspects and seemed reluctant to refer to the incidents as gaybashings.

In the Stepho’s incident, they allegedly refused to talk to the victim of the gaybashing altogether-even after he approached an officer and told him: “I’m the victim of this gaybashing. Don’t you want to talk to me?”

The officer allegedly closed the car door in the victim’s face and did not reply.

The back-to-back bashings, and police responses, have renewed the community’s skepticism in the VPD and left many members feeling shaken. They, too, think it’s time for more policing changes-including gay-sensitivity and hate crime training.

Lori Neuen is among the people calling for more police training. She’s one of two lesbians who intervened in the Jun 29 attack, throwing herself between the bashers and their victim at Davie and Hornby. She suffered a serious cut to her hand in the process-and an even more serious blow to her perception of the police.

“Davie St is a unique community,” she says. “It’s imperative for the police to understand the uniqueness of the community they’re serving so they can respond appropriately to the community’s needs.”

Vince Marino agrees. He’s one of the gay representatives on the police chief’s diversity advisory committee. He, too, thinks the VPD should implement mandatory gay-sensitivity training.

And he has the support of the VPD’s gay programs coordinator.

Though Det Roz Shakespeare is quick to point out that officers already get some hate crime training, she says she’d like to see more gay-sensitivity training in the near future. In fact, the out transsexual cop has applied to go to Australia to take part in one of their training programs so she can bring the knowledge back home.

It’s important for officers assigned to the West End to have a good understanding of the gay community’s culture, Shakespeare says; it’s just like transferring into any other neighbourhood with a unique culture.

Of course, most of the officers working in the West End already are sensitive, she hastens to add, but sometimes things can get a bit hectic at the scene of a crime. So more sensitivity training is always a good thing, she concludes.

Insp Dave Jones, the West End’s commander, is noncommittal.

It’s never a bad idea to do more sensitivity training, he agrees. But this call for more training implies that the officers are insensitive right now.

And that’s just not true, he says.

Jones says he’s confident that the majority of his officers are sensitive to gay issues. “They care,” he says. “They’re good officers.”

Deva maintains that changes are necessary. Not only would he like to see more training, he would also like to see stronger citizen patrols on Davie St. And he wants the VPD to help make them stronger.

The Davie St Community Policing Centre (CPC) already has some volunteer street patrols, explains Deva, who is also vice-president of the CPC’s board of directors. But the patrols don’t have much power and they mainly focus on things like auto theft.

“I’m talking about uniforming them and training them properly,” he says-and putting them to work on the more pertinent issues facing the community today, such as gaybashing.

“I think we can make [those patrols] more relevant to this community and the problems it’s facing.”

Marino supports him wholeheartedly. The Davie CPC has some good volunteers, he says, but their training is too limited.

He’d like to see the VPD re-train some of its CPC volunteers so they can perform basic police functions, such as taking 911 reports and running stronger street patrols.

And that’s just the beginning. “You have to look at this whole model of how we police ourselves,” Marino says. “I really think the centralized policing model requires revisiting.”

In fact, he says, he would like to see a stronger, larger Davie CPC, staffed with better-trained volunteers and more officers. It could stay open 24 hours a day, he suggests, and be a real tool in the fight against violence.

And it could draw from a pool of officers specifically assigned to, and trained for, the West End.

That’s a proposal that would surely appeal to Ron Stipp. Like many in the gay community, the co-founder of West Enders against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) still wants regular, recognizable beat cops to patrol Davie St-and deter bashers.

“We’ve asked the police over and over again to put beat cops on Davie,” Stipp says. “If it’s good enough for the Downtown Eastside, it’s good enough for Davie.”

In the past, Jones has always replied that putting beat cops on Davie is not the best use of resources. Now he says there are some cops who regularly walk, bike or drive up Davie. And, of course, there’s Const Cheryl Leggett, the lesbian officer assigned to the Davie CPC, he adds. “She’s out there all the time.”

When asked how often Leggett walks the beat at night, during peak bashing hours, Jones says she usually works a day shift.

But “our research shows that there is no peak bashing hour,” he protests.

Stipp is not convinced. That’s why he and his fellow WEAVErs have begun collecting their own data to document gaybashings in the Village-as a first step to figuring out what changes need to be made for the police to respond more appropriately to gaybashings.

In the meantime, Stipp says, “we don’t want people bleeding on the side of the street, waiting for the police to do something.”