4 min

Your police representative

Vince Marino is cautious in comments about policing

'FINGER ON THE PULSE': Vince Marino is very involved in Vancouver's gay community. So far, he's not as outspoken on policing issues as was his predecessor, Bill Coleman. Credit: Robin Perelle

There’s a change in style coming from the new gay voice on the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) diversity committee.

Vince Marino may be the new gay representative on the committee but no one would mistake his cautious, equivocating answers for those of his predecessor, the outspoken Bill Coleman.

Coleman, who moved to Amsterdam in August, will be best remembered for two things: his straightforward applause and criticism of police, and his determination to get more gay officers on the increasingly short-handed Vancouver police force. He continually urged the VPD to launch gay-specific recruitment drives and pegged Pride as a perfect place to start.

After three years of lobbying, the VPD finally gave in and agreed to drive its recruitment van in the Pride Parade.

It also agreed, after much pressure from Xtra West and the community, to set up a general information booth at the Pride festival-though it balked at setting up the recruitment booth it usually uses at other festivals, and it still won’t run any recruitment ads in the community’s newspaper.

Now, Marino is unclear about whether or not he plans to carry the recruitment torch any further.

On the one hand, he says the VPD has made “considerable inroads” in its recent efforts to recruit gays. He also says these efforts must continue and agrees that placing a recruitment ad in Xtra West would be a logical next step. He even says he would have “no problem” bringing that suggestion forward to the committee and “making that voice heard” if that’s what the community wants.

But when told that the VPD refuses to run any ads in Xtra West because of the paper’s ads for porn videos, Marino backs off.

Though he has no problem with porn ads in the paper, Marino says it’s important to see the police perspective, too. As long as the VPD applies its anti-porn advertising criteria to all newspapers equally then it’s okay, he says.

Jim Deva, who sits with Marino on the gay safety committee, takes a different approach. Freedom of sexuality is what the gay community is all about, he told Xtra West a few months ago. If the VPD truly wants to reach gays and invite them to join the force, it has to use “our own papers and our own language.”

The VPD did run a recruitment ad in the gay business association’s news bulletin last October, but the Forum only has about 1,500 readers, most of them business owners and managers. Xtra West’s readership is closer to 60,000 people from all areas of the community. Running an ad in the Forum is not good enough, Deva says. “If they’re really serious about recruiting in our community, you’d think they would choose the vehicle which reaches the most people in our community.”

As for his plans for his new post, Marino won’t say what he hopes to accomplish on the diversity advisory committee. He says he doesn’t want it to be about his own personal views because he wants to represent the community’s views. “It’s not really about what I want to accomplish,” he explains.

He will say that he hopes to foster more understanding between the gay community and the VPD, and help make each one more aware of the issues and frustrations the other faces.

Marino won’t even venture a guess as to what the community’s most pressing needs might be right now, deferring once again to the community’s input, which he hopes to start collecting right away. When pushed, he offers gay-bashing as a probable concern for many community members.

When asked how well he thinks the VPD is protecting the gay community, Marino again selects a safe middle ground. “I think all of us get that feeling at times, that we may not be as protected as we should be,” he says. But that’s probably true of many minority groups, he continues, and it shouldn’t destroy the community’s relationship with the police.

Marino says all of his personal interactions with VPD officers have only been positive. Though he has never had to call the VPD for a bashing, he has called a few times about break-ins and problems at the PumpJack Pub, which he co-owns.

Sgt Don Cayer, the head of the VPD’s diversity relations unit, says Marino was selected to sit on the chief’s advisory committee because he has his “finger on the pulse of the community.” Marino has been an active member of the community for years, sitting on the gay safety committee, the Pride Society’s board of directors, the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), the Dr Peter Centre’s fundraising committee and the West End seniors network. As a part owner of the PumpJack and Fountainhead pubs, he has also challenged city hall’s restrictive licensing practices. And he has been key in turning PumpJack into a virtual community centre for leather, denim, bear and other groups.

Marino’s selection marks a turning point in the way the VPD fills vacancies on its diversity committee. In the past, out-going committee members would simply recommend someone to replace them. Now, that too is changing thanks to Coleman.

Coleman thought Vancouver’s “diverse” communities, including the gay community, should get a chance to nominate their own representatives. That would be a “better idea than just me suggesting whoever I happen to know,” he told Xtra West before he moved away.

If the community gets a say in its own representation, it will not only feel more involved in the process, but the VPD will likely get better representatives on the committee, he explained.

And if the selection process becomes more open, more people will also get a chance to apply for the position, Coleman added. As long as the process relies solely on internal recommendations, the committee will end up “being a small circle.”

The VPD initially followed its usual, recommendation-based process to fill Coleman’s spot. But Cayer jumped at an offer from Xtra West last October to run a notice in the paper advertising the opening and urging gay men to apply.

Cayer says he was amazed by the number of high quality applicants who responded. He has no regrets about running the notice and plans to take similar steps in other communities as other seats on the committee become vacant.

But he draws the line at asking the community to choose its own representative to the committee.

This is the chief’s advisory committee, Cayer explains. Ultimately it has to be the chief’s choice because the chief has to be able to work with the members of that committee.

And what selection process does Marino favour for the future? Though he has no problem asking the community for nominees, he says a recommendation-based process can be valid, too.

Marino will join a committee that already has two lesbian representatives. They have been the subject of some scrutiny recently because both their partners are police officers, putting their loyalty to the community potentially in question.