Vancouver police have been making changes to keep the West End, and particularly the Davie Village area, safer in response to a perceived increase in anti-gay violence.
When the frequency of gaybashings reported to police increased last fall, Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Insp Adua Porteous says she responded by sending patrols of plainclothes officers into the Village during peak nightclub hours.
“We also used one of our surveillance teams,” adds Porteous, who worked on “identifying any groups that might be looking to cause problems.”
As the VPD’s district commander for the West End, Porteous says the expense of such patrolling means that these measures can only be used when the statistics support a rise in violence.
“It’s something that we are certainly open to if we have reasons to believe that this [gaybashing] is happening more frequently,” she notes.
Longtime safety activist Jack Herman of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) commends the use of plainclothes officers in this way, seeing it as a way for them to glean “at firsthand what is going on in the community.”
“I can understand that police officers are there in plainclothes to get educated and enlightened as to what is going in our community, [and] WEAVE certainly supports that,” he says.
According to VPD Staff Sergeant Don Cayer, one of the biggest changes to policing in District One is that Granville St no longer monopolizes police resources on weekends.
Over the last several years, he says, policing has changed so that resources are not diverted away from the rest of the West End to deal with the large population of Granville St clubgoers each weekend.
Instead, officers working on a call-out basis make up a special patrol team and focus their attention on the clubs. As a result, Cayer says, everybody gets more attention.
“And second to the Granville Mall, in terms of high traffic and whatnot, is the gay village,” he notes.
Porteous agrees that this strategy is effective, noting that police are seeing increased traffic along the Davie Village strip, particularly in the Burrard/Thurlow area of the Village on weekends.
She says on some evenings when officers notice higher turnout at some of the clubs in this area, the additional patrols (called Lima squads) are sent to create a police presence in the village.
“Any increased visibility of VPD in the West End is a good thing,” says Herman, adding “I wish there were more.”
WEAVE has traditionally advocated for more uniformed police patrols in the District One. “I would feel a lot more comfortable at night in the West End, and particularly on Davie St, if there were [uniformed police] patrolling,” Herman adds.
Though past surveys done by WEAVE suggested that gaybashings occur more frequently in the summer months, Herman says this year seems different, if his own outreach in the community is any indication.
“What I’m hearing now from victims, and secondhand from friends and business owners, is that this winter there has been no let-up in bashings,” he says.
“In fact,” Herman adds, “there has been an increase in what I’m hearing and what I’m knowing. So whether it was underreported in the past few winters, I don’t know, but there’s certainly a lot of it going on these days.”
The executive director of the Coal Harbour Community Policing Centre (CPC) emphasizes the statistical impact of reporting hate-motivated violence to police.
“If one in 10 of these [bashings] are getting reported, they’re responding as if only 10 percent of the problem is actually taking place,” Melissa Ratcliff points out.
Ratcliff notes that the CPC staff of volunteers does not currently patrol in the evenings, nor is their office the recommended point of contact in an emergency. “It’s really important that people call 911 right away,” she says, adding that “that one dot on the [statistical] map that they’re going to create is very powerful and is very important.”
Meanwhile, arrests have yet to be made in the alleged gaybashing of 32-year-old Chad Wilkinson, in which a group of men physically assaulted and aimed homophobic slurs at Wilkinson as he was walking home from the Village Nov 7.
Det Tim Houchen told Xtra West last issue that hate crimes investigators have a suspect who they believe is not currently residing in British Columbia, and are pursuing the opportunity to question several other individuals in connection with the incident.
Despite repeated calls, Houchen could not be reached for an update before press time.