A city councillor is troubled by “fearful” communications coming out of the New Westminster Police Department.
At a joint meeting of city council and the police board, Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she reviewed media releases issued by the police department for the two years before and the two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What I saw was a marked increase in what I would describe as fearful communication,” she said. “I find that to be really problematic in our community because I feel that it is contributing to a lot of instability.”
Nakagawa’s comments came during a joint meeting between the police board and city council regarding the New Westminster Police Department’s draft 2024 budget.
“It feels like it is set up for us not to interfere,” she said of council’s role in policing. “But yet that does not mean that policing does not impact politics.”
Nakagawa said the City of Vancouver has a police force that, in her opinion, is “very political.” While she’s grateful that she hasn’t seen that same level of political action in New Westminster’s police force, she finds the communications coming out from the police department to be “deeply troubling.”
“When we have press release after press release that goes out about violent incidents … I don’t think that it is helpful to the community,” she said. “And I find that to be political.”
Nakagawa said her comments were made with the belief that city council and the police department both care about the community.
“We all want the best for our community, we want people to feel safe, we want people to feel taken care of, we want people to feel like this is a city where they belong; I believe that for all of us in this room,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “And I would just comment that I think it works against this idea that politics is separate from policing. It’s a very great ideal; I don’t think it is the practice.”
In April 2023, the police department’s strategic communications coordinator provided an update to the police board about the NWPD’s communications.
“The New Westminster Police Department values two-way, transparent communication with residents as a cornerstone of public safety,” said the report. “One of the tools we use in sharing public safety information is the media release, which is posted to our website, social media channels, and distributed to a list of journalists and community stakeholders.”
The staff report stated the frequency of media releases can vary dramatically depending on the needs at the time.
“Quarterly distribution of media releases can vary from as low as seven to as many as 45,” said the report. “In the first quarter of 2023, the New Westminster Police Department distributed 32 media releases.”
According to the report, the annual number of media releases typically ranges between 60 and 80 per year, with notable increases in 2014, 2015 and 2022.
“The New Westminster Police Department is aware of increasing calls for police transparency,” said the report. “Past public engagement survey results have stated that residents want to see increased frequency of communications from their local police. Media releases are one tool to make the work of the department as accessible and transparent as possible.”
In recent months, the police department has issued a number of news releases about missing/located persons. It’s also issued news releases related to a variety of initiatives and incidents, including: “Bait bikes could be anywhere in New Westminster”; “Crime Reduction Units makes arrest and seizes replica handgun”; “Police appeal for dash cam footage after armed robbers flee pharmacy with drugs and money”; “Man arrested after brandishing a knife inside Columbia Square Plaza”; “Suspect arrested after brandishing knife at patrons inside restaurant”; and “Major Crime Unit investigating after stabbing victim found inside residence.”
The report stated that certain criteria must be met in order for an event or police incident to be considered for a media release. This includes furthering a police investigation (finding missing persons, appealing for witnesses to come forward); helping to prevent crime (scams, crime prevention information shared based on trends); and serving as a source of factual information on an event (such as school lockdowns, fire investigations, major collisions).
Media releases are also sent out to connect people to victim services (if police believe victims may have fled before police arrived on scene and may need to be connected to victims services) or to highlight internal work the police department is doing that it believes may be of interest to the public or others working in the field of public safety.
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