An internal advisory committee tasked with supporting equity and diversity and “challenging privilege internally” is in the works for the Waterloo Regional Police Service, Chief Bryan Larkin announced at a police services board meeting Wednesday.
Toward the end of the meeting, Larkin spoke for more than 15 minutes about the police service’s plans to address systemic racism. It was the first board meeting held since thousands of people marched against anti-Black racism in downtown Kitchener, and since local activists launched a call to defund police and reinvest money in social programs and services.
“As a person of white privilege, and as your chief of police, I’ve been reflecting on the many voices, the many concerns raised by Black and Indigenous people in the community,” said Larkin, with his voice wavering.
“I’m an optimist, I do believe we have an opportunity to engage our community, work with all levels of government and collectively work towards fundamental change as we modernize and transform policing for the 21st century.”
‘Not actually listening’
The ACB Network wants the police budget defunded, and for the police to shutter its school resource officer program and a community outreach program that brings officers and firefighters together with young people.
Advocates say those programs target Black and other youth of colour, and put them in a position where they are disproportionately watched over by police.
Warren told CBC News she found the conversation at Wednesday’s board meeting “performative.” She noted that neither Larkin nor board chair Karen Redman directly addressed the call to defund police and reinvest money in community programs.
“I felt that the police service spent a great deal of time on crafting a very PR response, but not actually listening to the concerns of the community,” said Warren.
“That’s clear in the committees and advisory boards that they’re forming, and plans they’re developing, that do not include any representatives from the communities that are most impacted by police brutality.”
Action items from WRPS
During the meeting, Larkin acknowledged work needs to be done to ensure people in need receive the right kind of help, which doesn’t always mean policing.
For example, Waterloo regional police have a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association to dispatch crisis workers to mental health related calls. The service, called IMPACT, is available from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Larkin listed other steps the service is taking steps to improve policing, which include:
- The police service’s first equity, diversity and inclusion plan, which was first announced in March.
- Plans to work with higher levels of government on a plan to fit officers with body-worn cameras.
- Plans to begin collecting race-based data around the use of force.
- A newly created position within the force that will look at training, education and professional development, with a focus on use of force and de-escalation.
So far, Warren said she thinks the equity, diversity and inclusion plan announced earlier this spring has failed.
Warren said she also doesn’t think the use of body cameras leads to greater accountability. She’s skeptical the police service will be able to bring in a body camera program without hiking the police budget further.
And despite Larkin’s stated plan to engage with the community, Warren said an official meeting between the police service and the ACB Network has not yet happened.
“We’re awaiting the direct contact rather than these public calls out of engagement,” Warren said.