4 min

VPD gay liaison offers rainbow frisbees for Pride

But skeptic says foot patrol would have been better

Credit: Robin Perelle

The frisbees have been ordered, their logos have been approved and the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) new gay liaison is looking forward to launching his first official project in this year’s Pride Parade. But already the project is garnering mixed reviews.

While some are hailing the soon-to-be-distributed rainbow Crime Stoppers frisbees as an inspired bit of outreach, at least one queer policing activist remains skeptical.

Const Chris Smith, who took over Det Roz Shakespeare’s role as the VPD’s gay liaison in April, says he’s “damn proud” of his 10,000 frisbees. “There’s been so much bloody work going into this project,” he smiles.

The Crime Stoppers’ logo is “like an international, universal sign” that’s never been altered before, he explains. Now that logo is going to be displayed against a rainbow backdrop and distributed at Pride.

It will be like seeing rainbow stickers in neighbourhood stores and coffee shops, Smith explains; it will show the community that Crime Stoppers cares and is sensitive to its needs. And that, he notes, will hopefully encourage gays and lesbians to call Crime Stoppers with information that can help solve crimes such as the unsolved murder of gay man Edgar Leonardo last year (see story pg 11.)

“I believe in this project,” Smith says earnestly. “I’m totally committed to it. And I’m very grateful that the Greater Vancouver Crime Stoppers has embarked in this relationship with the gay community.”

Vince Marino, who sits on the police chief’s diversity advisory committee and co-owns the PumpJack Pub, shares Smith’s enthusiasm for the frisbee project.

“The community still has hesitancy about anonymity when they’re making calls,” Marino explains. Now here’s Crime Stoppers-an organization internationally recognized for guaranteeing anonymity to tipsters-marching in the Pride Parade for the first time and offering the community a new entry point for sharing information.

It’s another positive partnership for the community, Marino says.

Velvet Steel isn’t so sure. The co-founder of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) says a rainbow frisbee won’t convince her to trust the police and report crimes.

“I’m forever the skeptic” when it comes to the police, she says.

Vancouver’s law enforcement agencies should be working on building trust with the community directly, she continues-not just handing out frisbees.

“How is the relationship going to change by handing out a simple frisbee?” she asks.

“I almost feel like I’m being bought by a frisbee,” she adds.

Crime Stoppers coordinator Sgt Guy Draper hopes the gay community will accept the frisbees as a genuine attempt to build trust. “I think they feel their info falls on deaf ears,” he says. “We want to let them know that’s not true.”

Calling Crime Stoppers is “just another avenue for people who maybe don’t want to have contact with the police,” Draper continues, encouraging people to contact his office with tips that could help solve crimes. “We’re only as good as the information [we get],” he points out.

Draper says he was happy to help Const Smith bring his frisbee idea to life. He took Smith’s idea to Crime Stoppers’ board of directors and “they thought it was fantastic.

“And here we are,” he says. “I’ll see you in the Parade.”

Crime Stoppers will not only distribute its frisbees in this year’s Pride Parade but has also agreed to pay part of the cost. The non-profit organization, which is subsidized by donations and fundraisers, volunteered to cover half of the frisbees’ $8,000 price tag; the PumpJack Pub and VanCity are splitting the other half.

The frisbees will always be a reminder that Crime Stoppers says there should be no barriers, Marino says.

Steel isn’t sold. She’s particularly unimpressed with the absence of the word “Pride” from the frisbee prototype. The proposed frisbee will feature the standard Crime Stoppers’ logo and phone number superimposed upon the colours of the rainbow. There is no mention of the word gay or “Happy Pride” or anything specific to the community.

“It makes me wonder if they really want any direct association with the community,” says Steel.

The rainbow is used in a lot of things now, she points out. It doesn’t necessarily mean gay. If the frisbees said “Pride” they’d be more supportive, she suggests.

Draper agrees. “They should have put it on there,” he says, referring to Smith and Marino who designed the frisbees. “They could have put ‘Pride’ on there. Made no difference to me.

“I asked them for the logo,” Draper continues. “So somebody made a corporate decision not to put ‘Pride’ on there. Or it was just omitted. Who knows?

“But I think it looks good, anyway,” he adds.

Smith looks somewhat surprised when the question comes up. The community will know the frisbees are for them, he says, because they’ll be distributed at the Pride Parade.

Marino agrees. Crime Stoppers has “stepped up to the plate” here, he says in a frustrated tone. The gay community should accept that “without reading into it any more than needs to be read into it or questioned.”

Steel says distributing 10,000 frisbees would not have been her priority for the new gay liaison’s first official project. “My priority would have been to do a foot patrol and reach out to the community,” she says. She has yet to meet Const Smith, she points out, even though she’s a regular at many West End coffee shops and the gay bookstore, Little Sister’s. “Who is this person?” she asks. “Why is there no presence once again?”

Smith says his dedication to the gay community is unwavering. He also notes that the frisbees are not the only component to his new Crime Stoppers outreach project. He hopes the agency will do more gay-related unsolved crime re-enactments in the future. (Crime Stoppers just filmed a re-enactment of the Leonardo case a few weeks ago. See related story pg 11.)

“I wanted to make sure we get more coverage, that the LBGT communities are properly represented,” Smith says.

Draper says that’s not up to Smith; it’s up to the investigator of a given case to request a re-enactment. Investigators come to Crime Stoppers when their cases are going cold and they’re hoping to jog the public’s memory, Draper explains.

As far as both Smith and Draper can remember there have only been two Crime Stoppers re-enactments of gay-related incidents in Vancouver to date: one for the Leonardo case and another for the Aaron Webster case filmed in 2002. (Four suspects were later arrested in that case; two have since pleaded guilty and two are awaiting trial.)