3 min

VPD meeting disappoints

Outreach meeting short on answers: participants

ADMITS ACCOUNTING NOT HIS STRENGTH. Michael Cowan says all Credit: Robin Perelle

The Vancouver police chief may have called the meeting a “watershed moment” but to Velvet Steel it was just “more of the same.”

Steel was one of only a dozen gay community members who attended Chief Jamie Graham’s first-ever public diversity advisory committee (DAC) meeting Apr 1. She left dissatisfied.

“I didn’t think our concerns were addressed at all,” says the increasingly high-profile transsexual.

First of all, the committee-which is supposed to advise the chief on Vancouver’s diverse minority communities-spent as much time talking about itself as listening to the community, Steel says. And when the discussion finally turned to gay-bashing, it didn’t produce anything new.

The meeting began with a long series of introductions from the committee’s civilian members (all appointed by the chief), and some of its affiliated officers. Then Graham took some questions from the audience.

That’s when Ron Stipp asked the chief what the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) will do to prevent more gay-bashings this summer.

Stipp is a relative newcomer to the gay safety scene. Bashing season is approaching, he explains, and he doesn’t want to see another surge of violence against gays. “We need to deal with this now and we need to deal with it quickly.”

At first, Graham seemed open to the idea. “There is no higher priority” for the VPD than issues of personal safety, he told his small audience. If people call, “we will respond. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Just ask Insp Dave Jones to put more beat cops on Davie St, he said.

That’s not a real answer, Steel fumes. Graham just deflected the question to another officer. That’s just “more of the same.”

The community has been asking Jones to put beat cops on Davie St for almost 18 months, ever since Aaron Webster was bashed to death in Nov 2001. He always refuses.

Jones has repeatedly said he doesn’t have the resources to put enough uniformed officers on Davie to effectively prevent bashings. Instead, he says, he’d like to assign a few covert cops to the job-despite considerable community opposition to the idea.

Jones’ response at the DAC meeting was no different. He again veered away from uniformed beat cops and repeated his preference for putting covert cops in Davie Village.

Several community members, including Stipp, Steel and Jim Deva from the gay safety committee, immediately objected. Uniformed beat cops send a clearer message of protection to community members and would-be bashers alike, Steel says.

Vince Marino, the new gay representative on DAC, says he

doesn’t feel comfortable with covert cops, either. “You don’t know what they’re watching,” he says.

The VPD should listen to the community on this, Stipp says. “We know our community best.”

But the chief and his advisory committee weren’t making any promises.

In fact, the chief “seemed to shut us down a bit when we talked about beat cops,” Stipp says.

Jones wasn’t making any promises, either.

“I would have liked more of a discussion about [beat cops],” Deva says. The meeting was supposed to be a dialogue, not an exercise in public relations.

Is there more debate in the regular DAC meetings? he asks. How often do the civilian DAC members challenge officers who say ‘this is how it’s done’?

Marino, for one, takes a more optimistic view of the chief’s response to putting beat cops on Davie. “I think he was saying: ‘if there’s enough voices raised, we will consider it,'” Marino says.

“That’s what I heard.

“Maybe I wanted to hear it like that,” he adds.

Overall, Marino thinks the meeting was “a small success.” He wanted the community to meet its representatives on the DAC and find out what the committee is all about. This was just a first step, he says, “but that’s where we start.”

It is a start, Stipp agrees. But it would’ve been a better start if it had been better advertised. “My big concern around the meeting was that nobody really knew about it.”

Steel agrees. She heard nothing about the meeting until she happened to see a poster advertising it at the PumpJack Pub, which Marino co-owns.

The poster appeared less than two weeks before the meeting, too late to be advertised in Xtra West, the community’s newspaper.

Marino readily agrees that the DAC did not advertise its meeting as well as it should have. But this is just the first outreach meeting, he emphasizes; DAC will meet with the gay community again some day. And when it does, Marino hopes more community members will attend. He was very disappointed with the low turn-out Apr 1, and hesitant to blame it all on the meeting’s poor advertising.

As for Stipp, he says he doesn’t understand the DAC any better now than he did before the public meeting.

“I really don’t understand the role of this committee,” he says. Many of its members talked more about their business interests than about safety issues. “How did they get appointed?” he asks. And why?

Steel, too, is disappointed. She hoped to hear more from the DAC’s three gay and lesbian members at the meeting.

Deva says he’d like all the DAC members to be more accessible to the communities they are supposed to represent. If nothing else, their phone numbers should be available on-line, he says.

Sgt Don Cayer, of the VPD’s diversity relations unit, says if anyone wants to speak to their DAC representatives, they can call his office.