Vancouver
2 min

VPD booth at Pride

Sargeant says recruitment unit will show

'NOT A MICRO-MANAGER'. Chief Jamie Graham is staying out of the debate on police recruitment within the gay community. But he's hoping to attend the Pride Parade this year. Credit: Robin Perelle

Against the back-drop of its increasingly desperate need for new officers, the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) recruitment unit has agreed to return to Pride this year.



Last year marked the first time in Vancouver history that the unit brought its search for new officers directly to the gay community. It took several years of pressure from the community and Xtra West, but the unit’s head, Sgt Ron Fairweather, finally drove the van in the Parade-and drew much applause in the process.



It was “a major break-though,” says Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s and vice-president of the Davie St Community Policing Centre. “I thought last year was very effective.”



Last year, Fairweather refused, until the very last minute, to help staff a recruitment booth after the Parade-sparking some speculation that the VPD still wasn’t serious about inviting gays and lesbians to join its understaffed force.



Though Fairweather did, in the end, stay for the post-Parade festival, he didn’t set up the usual VPD recruitment station. Instead, he set up a general information booth.



Deva isn’t too concerned. The general booth was still effective, he says. The officers who staffed it seemed genuinely interested in recruiting gays and lesbians.



This year, Fairweather says the actual recruitment unit will have a booth at the post-Parade festival, but he won’t say exactly what sort of booth it will be, nor whether he’ll stay to staff it himself. And he says he’s not interested in advertising in Xtra West.



This is a community whose relationship with the VPD has been fraught with distrust historically, says Bill Coleman, who sat on the Chief’s diversity advisory committee for years before moving to the Netherlands last year. That means the VPD has to make a special effort to convince the community that its recruitment invitation is genuine-through recruitment at Pride and advertising in the city’s gay and lesbian newspaper.



When asked if he thinks a special effort is necessary, Chief Constable Jamie Graham says yes. “Police forces in North America have to reach out” to minority groups, he says. It’s the right thing to do.



But he’s reluctant to intervene in his own recruitment unit’s decisions.



“I don’t micromanage,” he explains. “If I empower these officers to make decisions about where we’re going to put our advertising or our recruitment budget, I trust that they’ll make the right decisions.



“Unless there’s something inherently wrong with how they’re handling our recruiting dollar, I’ll leave it just the way it is.”



Graham maintains that gays and lesbians are well represented in the VPD’s latest recruitment class, but when pressed admits that he has no specific numbers.



He doesn’t even know how many out gays and lesbians are on the force overall. “How do you tell?” he asks, adding that sexual orientation simply isn’t an issue for him.



“All we can do is create an atmosphere of openness,” he says. So if officers choose to come out “they will be supported.”



As for his own plans for this year’s Pride Parade, Graham says he’ll do his best to make it this year. The chief has to set an example, he says.