The New Westminster Police Department is looking to create its own safe spaces program for LGBTQ+ people facing violence, bullying or harassment, following a similar model to a program in Vancouver.
The safe space program would provide public spaces – businesses, organizations, city buildings, school district properties and other similar spaces – for anyone from the LGBTQ+ community facing violence to take shelter.
Each location would be marked with a sticker, to be designed by the NWPD, on or near the entrance, and those facing violence could stay safe at that location while staff called police and take shelter until police arrived.
The program is still in its formative stages, said crime prevention co-ordinator Wendy Bowyer at a recent police board meeting.
The concept was first devised by the Seattle Police Department and has since been imported north of the border, with the Vancouver Police Department implementing a similar program in that city.
The NWPD has been working in the background, so far, to build up to a point where the department feels comfortable implementing such a program. That includes sensitivity training from Const. Dale Quiring of the VPD, who leads the program in Vancouver.
“So things like proper use of pronouns and really getting us to think about maybe our policies – are our policies inclusive? Does our dress and deportment policy include somebody that … is transgender?” Bowyer said.
“Some of these things are still in progress, but we’re definitely on the right path.”
Bowyer added that the department is working on getting trans-inclusive signage on its washrooms.
Moving forward, the department will be looking to gain support in the community, including through social media and by approaching businesses to canvass for potential safe spaces.
Those businesses that are interested would then submit their information online to the NWPD, sign forms saying they agree to to instruct employees to assist victims or witnesses to anti-LGBTQ+ crimes, undergo staff training for the safe spaces and then receive the decal to advertise the organization as a safe space.
Bowyer said she’s been in the community to explain the program to individuals and businesses already, and has had a positive response so far.
“I did have a couple of big corporations, such as Telus, sign up right on the spot for all of their locations,” she said. “A very overwhelming response, which was super great.”
Bowyer said no date has yet been determined to roll the program out in full.