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New West police urged to make strategy consultation meetings more inclusive

The New Westminster Police Department needs to do a better job including marginalized voices in its public engagement as it forms its upcoming strategic plan, according to attendees of a community consultation meeting.
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The New West Police Department was blocked by Wikipedia after it attempted to scrub the “Controversy” section from its entry on the crowdsourced online encyclopedia. FILE PHOTO

The New Westminster Police Department needs to do a better job including marginalized voices in its public engagement as it forms its upcoming strategic plan, according to attendees of a community consultation meeting.

After closing its online survey in June, the NWPD held public consultation meetings at the New Westminster Public Library on Sept. 16, 17 and 21 to help form the strategic plan for the coming years.

Amina Yasin and Trudi Goels attended the Saturday morning session, and both said they knew people who didn’t come because they felt too uncomfortable attending a police-led event on policing priorities.

Goels said she often invites marginalized women to attend public engagement events with her in case they feel uncomfortable alone in those environments.

“I got very direct feedback that there was no way that they were going into that space because they didn’t feel safe or comfortable to be heard,” said Goels, who comes from a background in community development.

For both Goels and Yasin, a major part of the issue was that the event was led by two male police officers, which can be uncomfortable for members of marginalized communities.

“Public engagement and facilitation is a career in itself,” noted Yasin, who said she came to the consultations informed by her experience both as an urban planner and as a black woman.

One thing that exemplified that lack of inclusion, Yasin said, is the framing of homelessness as a policing issue.

“If that’s a policing issue, do you really think that they feel welcome? … I wouldn’t think so. And is it really for policing to encroach into work like social work? Police officers are not social workers,” Yasin said.

She pointed to a recent report by the B.C. Centre on Substance Use that found policing strategies in the Downtown Eastside tend to create barriers to drug users attending life-saving overdose prevention sites.

Yasin and several others on social media also noted the online survey similarly had leading questions.

“At the end of the day, the strategy’s about budgeting, and maybe that’s the conversation we should have: maybe we’re over-budgeting in some areas and under-budgeting in others, especially if police have to now take on the role of public engagement, official facilitator and social worker,” Yasin said.

One thing that can be lost by not including marginalized voices is how to address the high rate of violent crimes against those communities, which often goes under-reported to police.

NWPD spokesperson Hailey Finnigan said the police force “made specific efforts to inform people from diverse experiences, interests and perspectives about opportunities to help us write our new strategic plan.”

“We chose the New Westminster Public Library as a venue for the strategic planning community consultations because it is both central and familiar to members of marginalized communities,” Finnigan said.

She added the department used space in the CityPage section of the Record and distributed posters at public buildings to connect with those without internet access.

“NWPD staff personally reached out to various community partners with information on how people connected to their agencies could engage with us in writing our new strategic plan,” Finnigan said.

“These community partners included addiction treatment centres, housing societies, organizations for newcomers to Canada, social services organizations, Indigenous communities and both the multicultural advisory committee and community and social issues committee.”

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