New West police department to respond to calls for police reform

New Westminster’s police chief would be willing to give up some of his department’s cash if it could go towards a system that better serves people in crisis.

In response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a white police officer, rallies and protests have been held across North America, with many people calling for defunding of police departments. For some, that means abolishing police departments and developing a new form of public safety; for others, it means reallocating some funds away from police departments towards social services, health services and community resources in an effort to eliminate police brutality and racial inequality.

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Chief Const. Dave Jansen said some great conversations are underway about what needs to be done to respond to folks in crisis.

“This isn’t an area we asked to be involved in … It has been downloaded to the police,” he said. “I can tell you, I would gladly give up part of my budget to find a better way to deal with persons in crisis. I recognize it could be my loved one that is there. I recognize having a police officer show up to these circumstances has to escalate the situation, has to bring extra anxiety. There has to be a better way for dealing with individuals that are simply needing medical help.”

Similarly, Jansen questions “how in the world it makes any sense” for police officers to have to put intoxicated people in a jail cell, when they actually need medical help.

At its June 30 meeting, the police board received a report written in response to public concerns and questions regarding the police department’s practices and policies related to recent events in North America. Through dozens of emails and comments on social media, community members sought information about a variety of issues including: oversight of police departments; police officer training; use of force; the use of chokeholds; body worn cameras; and the need for police reform and/or defunding.

The board approved a recommendation from the police chief to provide disaggregated data on the all use of force reports the police board annually, which means it can be broken down into categories such as race and socioeconomic class. It also approved a motion to create a new template on PRIME (the online program containing information about criminals and crimes) regarding mental health-related calls for service to better understand the scope and impact of these calls.

“Over the years, our police department has both evolved and become a far more progressive police organization,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote, chair of the New Westminster police board. “I know that our board has championed these changes, but it is clear that we need to do more and we need to move faster.”

At that same meeting, the board unanimously approved a nine-part motion put forward by Cote in response to the concerns being raised about policing issues such as use of force and defunding. (See below.)

“I am very proud of our police department and its members. Policing is a very difficult job and the members need to be recognized for their passion in our community,” he said. “Calling for changes in policing and reforms does not have to be mutually exclusive to supporting and being proud of our members and our police department.”

Cote said some of the work included in his motion is already well underway, has been considered or is being worked on, but his motion puts an emphasis on that work and is intended to be a starting point to help move the discussion forwards.

“We are not going to be alone on this journey, as communities all around the world are having these important conversations,” he said. “I hope that we can join the many leaders and organizations in this discussion, and have New Westminster play a unique role to help be able to move this forward.”

Jansen said he wanted it known that the police department supports what’s being proposed and wants to be part of the work being done.

“I think it’s important for the community to know that I agree wholeheartedly with this motion, that I support the mayor and the board in the direction we are going. …  I think we can be part of a bigger conversation that doesn’t just entail the police but maybe looks at a whole bunch of different approaches,” he said. “It may be out of our comfort zone. Some of these conversations aren’t easy to hear; I recognize that.”

Concerns about use of force and institutionalized racism have soared in recent weeks, following a series of police-related deaths of Black and Indigenous people in the United States and Canada. Last month, about 100 people attended a rally in New West in support of Black Lives Matter.

“This movement brings to the forefront the implications of racism that may be systematically integrated into our economic and  government systems,” Cote said. “It highlights the very different experiences that those who identify as Black, Indigenous and other visible minorities often have with police departments and other authoritarian structures. This causes us to reflect and examine our own practices as a municipal government and police department so that we ensure we are serving people equitably and fairly.”

Sasha Ramnarine, a member of the police board, said a family member was murdered in Ontario many years ago and it was “questionable” whether police in a community known for its historical, systemic discrimination of certain groups of people took the case seriously. He said members of his family have experienced various discriminatory acts and been targeted by police in the past.

“It was always interesting to know why we were pulled over, why we were asked to get out of the car, why we were asked to do certain things,” he said. “So, I think having some sort of good leadership here to address these systemic issues is very important. I really do appreciate that.”

Jonathan Cote
As New Westminster's mayor, Jonathan Cote is also chair of the New Westminster police board. New Westminster is one of 11 B.C. cities with its own municipal police force. - File

What’s in the mayor’s motion?

The New Westminster Police Board has approved a nine-part motion relating to policing issues being raised across North America. The board unanimously adopted the motion, put forward by Mayor Jonathan Cote, at its June 30 meeting.

*Support deprioritizing the New Westminster Police Department’s resources away from the enforcement of laws that criminalize the survival of society’s most vulnerable people that would be better served by a public health or community care framework.

*Engage with the provincial government to work with the city to develop a new model to address crisis health management, with the goal of creating a pilot community-based crisis management program. Part of this work would be to: provide participants with a better understanding of issues around mental health, addictions and trauma; provide participants with tools to help someone experiencing a mental-health or substance-use emergency; and reduce call volumes for police response, while directing more to appropriate resources.

*Support the review of the use, deployment and training related to police equipment/weapons, and do this work in collaboration with the provincial government’s call to amend the Police Act.

*Develop and adopt a diversity and inclusion framework to guide the direction of community policing. It would include the following goals: having a workforce that is broadly reflective of the community; identifying and addressing barriers to diversity within the organizational systems; attracting and retaining a talented workforce skilled at working in an inclusive and respectful manner with one another and with the community; creating processes, policies, plans, practices, programs and services that meet the diverse needs of those served; and establishing a senior leadership action group to oversee equity, diversity and human rights initiatives.

*Request the development and implementation of a culturally-safe engagement plan to include and consider the personal experiences and voices of residents, or groups representing those who have experienced discrimination, in helping to shape any proposed police reforms. This work will be done in collaboration with New Westminster city council.

*Engage with members of the New Westminster Police Department, with the goal of developing understanding, input and support for new directions for the department.

*Request a comprehensive report on police reforms to be presented to the police board and city council by the end of 2020. The report will include a comprehensive scan of police reforms being conducted across North America and best practices in crisis health management at the local level.

*Request to work in collaboration with New Westminster city council on these actions.

*Request that this work be integrated into the New Westminster Police Department’s upcoming strategic plan.

This is part of a series of stories running in the Record in response to calls for police reform.

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