2 min

Wanted: gay or lesbian cop

VPD searches to replace Roz Shakespeare

Credit: Robin Perelle

Insp Val Harrison isn’t surprised that the gay programs coordinator job she’s advertising throughout the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has yet to draw any takers.

That’s the nature of community policing, she explains. Most cops see them as softer positions, and prefer to stay on regular patrol.

But that won’t stop Harrison. “I expect we’ll fill the position by talking to people, giving them a verbal tap on the shoulder,” says the West End’s new top cop, reiterating her earlier promise to make staffing the position a priority.

Harrison began searching for a new gay-programs coordinator a few weeks ago, after she decided to make permanent the position Det Roz Shakespeare created in 2002. The police union has since agreed to allow the recently retired Shakespeare to return on contract for four months to train the next coordinator. Shakespeare was re-sworn in Jan 5.

Now all she needs is a new coordinator to train.

The co-founder of the community safety committee has already begun formulating a wish list of traits he hopes the new coordinator will possess.

For starters, says Jim Deva, the coordinator has to be gay, lesbian or trans. “It’s important we have someone who is not only part of the VPD but also part of our community,” he says. “They need to select people who are not in the periphery of our community but right in the middle of it.”

It’s about trust, he explains-and expertise. “Someone who is knowledgeable about the nuances of our community, like park cruising. So we don’t have to educate them.”

Whoever takes Shakespeare’s place will have to earn the community’s trust, Deva continues. “And that comes from knowledge of our community. That’s not something you can learn in a book.”

Though Harrison says she thinks a straight cop could potentially do the job, she agrees that finding a gay replacement would be ideal.

“That would probably be the easiest fit for everybody-if there’s a gay officer who wants to do the work,” she says. A gay male cop would have an easier time establishing trust with the community, she concurs.

But finding a gay candidate could be hard because there are no gay cops at the VPD right now, she cautions.

If anything, says Deva, that should be an incentive to the VPD to support more gay cops coming out. “That’s a major, major problem.”

Still, he says, he’d be satisfied with a lesbian officer filling the position for now-as long as there’s gender parity over the years. “If they choose a lesbian the first time then fine, perfect. But next time they need to make sure it’s a male officer.”

And they need to consult with the community during both the selection process and the finalization of the job description, Deva continues.

“It’s important we set the terms [of that job description] right now, so in three years we’re not complaining, saying it isn’t functioning properly. We should take some control of the definition of the job.

“Hopefully it’s a partnership again between the VPD and the community,” he continues. “If the VPD sets the terms, it’s not much of a partnership.”

Harrison says she didn’t think a community consultation would be necessary since she plans to keep the job description that Shakespeare formulated. But if the community wasn’t consulted the first time around, there could be a consultation now, she says.

In the meantime, she’s urging all gay and lesbian officers interested in becoming the next gay programs coordinator to step forward immediately. She is hoping to fill the position this month.