WATERLOO REGION — Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says policing must change and modernize while delivering services differently, but he doesn’t support defunding the police.
In a statement to Waterloo Regional Police Services Board members on Wednesday, Larkin said he wants to listen and work with the community to build trust and would like to see “alternative service delivery.”
“Policing was never designed to be the primary caregiver and responder to mental health calls for service,” he said. But each year police respond to 3,500 calls in which individuals may be in crisis.
Larkin said he doesn’t see taking money from the police budget as a long-term solution. Instead, he suggested “refunding” other services to assist police with mental health calls.
“We have become everything to everyone,” he said after the meeting. “It was never our intention to get a call for service at 3 a.m. for someone who is without a home and sleeping in a vestibule.”
Local Black activists have called for $29.3 million to be diverted from the $180-million police budget and invested in community-based health initiatives for impoverished and racialized groups.
Defunding the police is a reform measure being tried in American cities, and being considered in Toronto after the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police last month.
During his comments to the board, Larkin was overcome with emotion, saying that as a man of white privilege he was overwhelmed by the Black communities’ pain.
Larkin said he recognizes policing is perceived and experienced by racialized communities as an institution that embodies systemic discrimination and bias.
“I want to acknowledge that racism exists in our region, exists in our country and that Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities have suffered, continue to suffer from systemic discrimination and bias within our society,” he said.
“These communities believe, based on their lived experiences and histories, that police services in the region, Canada and around the world exercise our powers of enforcement in a manner that results in the disproportionate treatment of those who are poor, Black, Indigenous or people of colour,” he said.
Teneile Warren of the African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region, said the chief was dismissing and diverting from the issues on the table, including the defunding of the police when he suggested refunding of the police.
“That suggestion is a complete distraction,” she said.
Warren said the Black community is frustrated with “this sudden acknowledgement of racism as if we have just been pointing it out.”
“It was performative whiteness,” she said.
In his statement, Larkin said the service would start an internal advisory group made up of employees with lived experience.
Other measures include changes to the constable recruitment process to remove implicit bias, and additional training on implicit bias and anti-racism training for all officers. Police will also receive Indigenous awareness training and anti-Black racism and oppression education training.
Larkin said the service will track race-based data collection, examining traffic stops and arrests and look into the possibility of body cameras for officers.
Warren said measures being considered such as anti-racism training and body cameras are “stall tactics” that have proven not to work.
“Body cameras have only added a new layer of traumatization for our community because all they do is record the police brutality but don’t hold them accountable,” she said.
Warren said when the chief spoke about the past few weeks and how tough it had been spoke to another example of the “white experience.”
“It is white tears and the weaponizing of white fragility and seeking sympathy for himself and the police service,” she said.