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TPS host focus group on diversity in policing

Posted on January 24, 2018 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times
tbusch@tabertimes.com

In an effort to ensure the Taber Police Service is meeting the needs of groups of diversity within the community, a Diversity SWOT Analysis was recently completed gathering feedback from representatives of various groups.

The two-day focus group workshop was conducted on Nov. 6-7, 2017, and included individuals from the Taber Equality Alliance, Filipino Society of Taber, the First Nations-Metis-Inuit (FNMI) community, and the Low German Mennonite community. The acronym SWOT refers to Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

The Taber Police Service’s business plan and Alberta Policing Standards require that police services engage with groups of diversity so that those most vulnerable in our society feel safe. Conducting focus groups assists the Taber Police Service in gaining important information from groups of diversity in the community, assists with answering questions about police policy and practices, and building relationships with those individuals that might be apprehensive or less inclined to call the police.

“It is important that the police service be a place where anyone in our community feels safe to come report a crime, talk to an officer, or get help,” reads the background to the report, which was presented to the Taber Municipal Police Commission (TMPC) at their Jan. 11 regular meeting. “We need to ensure that we meet our core values to be compassionate and professional in our interactions with people, no matter their background.”

Cst. Mathieu Champagne, who conducted and prepared the Diversity SWOT Analysis, indicated between 18 and 22 individuals participated on both days of the forum.

“The group was very candid, the group was very honest. We wanted to provide them with an environment where they were safe to answer questions openly without fear of criticism, and I think that we had that. There were groups that were more open that others, but over all we had some pretty honest answers, which is what we wanted. We didn’t really want the group to come forward and just praise us for everything we did well.”

Items the group identified as strengths of the service included a visible presence in the community, member participation in community events, individuals treated with respect and fairness regardless of background, being proactive in breaking down barriers and welcoming regarding concerns of the community, a willingness to understand diverse community groups, a desire to “do what’s right,” and showing kindness and compassion to all.

“Do those diversity groups want to be recognized as a specific diversity group, rather than a group that’s integrated into society?” questioned Coun. Joe Strojwas, one of two town council representatives on the TMPC. “Why would I stand in the middle of the street and put a sign up that I am whatever? Wouldn’t they get further in the world if they integrated and became part of the group, rather than a special diverse group?”

Carefully diplomatic in his response to this line of inquiry, Champagne suggested the groups analyzed wish to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.

“That wasn’t one of the issues that we discussed, so I can’t really speak on behalf of the individual groups in regards to that. I understand that the group’s voice, that they want to be treated no different than any other group. They did want to be acknowledged in a way that they believed in. We do believe they have a right to acknowledged in a fashion that is correct terminology. In no way did the groups voice that they want to be treated any different than another group. They just want to be acknowledged the way they felt they should be acknowledged.”

Weaknesses were identified as a lack of presence within “community diversity group events” or churches, a lack of current or ongoing police training concerning personal bias, stereotyping, cultural sensitivity, and diversity awareness; not taking a stance to break down Taber’s community reputation toward diversity groups, a lack of public knowledge regarding police training in diversity issues, a need for more collaborative work involving the hierarchy of the various diversity groups, more capacity needed to deal with larger public issues involving sensitive issues of diversity, and a lack of visible diversity.

“As a police service, our mandate and goal when we deal with anyone in the community is to treat people following our values as an organization, but also insuring that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are protected for everyone,” said TPS Chief Graham Abela. “We know that there are communities of diversity that are over-represented as victims, in relation to being victims of crime, in Canada. It’s incumbent on the police service to ensure that we look after victims of crime, that’s one of our mandates. When some of those groups are over-represented in those crime categories, we want to make sure that those individuals feel that it’s safe to come to our organization and be welcomed, and to know that the interaction that they’re going to have with police is going to be the best we can, bias-free, and their complaints are going to be taken seriously.”

Strojwas appeared to advocate an assimilationist approach to diversity groups in the community.

“I have no qualms with that. It was just that in his presentation there, it was like they were pointing to themselves that they want to be acknowledged as being — and maybe it’s just the way that I interpret it — that they want to be acknowledged as a diverse group themselves. I was just wondering why they would want to be acknowledged as a separate group, and why they wouldn’t want to just blend in.”

Champagne reiterated his earlier statement, adding only that this was the first opportunity some of these groups and individuals may have had to express their opinion on various issues related to law enforcement in the community.

“Honestly I can’t answer that on behalf of the group. I can only speak to the fact that not having for the longest time — this would be the first forum of this type that we’ve held — so until this point the individuals of these groups haven’t had a platform where they could share their opinions, or perceptions. This is the first opportunity that this group has had, which is why I believe it was so well received by the group. At no point was any member of either of the four groups expressing a need for special treatment or anything along those lines, just that they were treated equally and fairly along with every other group in our community.”

Opportunities recommended included mandatory cultural diversity training that focuses on the various groups in Taber, mandatory training concerning anti-bias, anti-oppression, and anti-discrimination; building alliances with diversity groups to promote inclusion, ensuring that policy conceding discrimination is up to date regarding various diversity groups, creating partnerships with Taber’s various diversity groups by meeting regularly to share specific group concerns, an increased social network presence, offering up to date forms that accommodate current terminology (they, them, him, her, other), and increased student resource officer involvement with diversity groups within schools.

“Sometimes I think with some of those groups it’s society that maybe separates them moreso than (themselves),” said TMPC chair Ken Holst. “I know there’s some that do desire to be separated, but some through society — and I think that’s what they’re trying to guard themselves against is that the police service isn’t separating them, like sometimes society may wrongly separate them.”

Using the example of the Black Lives Matter movement that has appeared in various U.S. states and cities in the wake of perceived or alleged racial or other prejudices harboured by police forces, Strojwas pressed for more “integration” for diversity groups.

“If you take a look at what’s happening in the last couple of years State-side, there’s huge parades with people bearing signs that ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Well, all lives matter. It just seems like diversity groups are carrying the banner, they’re not being integrated as much. That’s why I asked, shouldn’t we have these people more integrated, rather than separate, set aside separately.”

Threats were identified as the increasing cost of policing and cuts in government financing, staffing concerns (inability to maintain service strength and numbers), poor perception and lack of trust of police by diversity groups, increasing public demands of police, including accountability; lack of awareness of diversity group concerns, a need for increased empathy toward diversity groups, increasingly right-wing views among Taber’s population pressuring police to appease and represent these majority views of the community, and finally resistance to change.

“If a Low German person comes into your detachment, do you provide someone who can speak German? I’m asking this question in all seriousness, if a transgendered person comes in and you do a body search, do you find an officer that’s transgendered?” questioned Coun. Jack Brewin, another town council representative to the commission. “Is this opening up something that we never thought of? A man or woman that thinks they’re a man, or an ‘other’, how do you actually… are we going to be walking into a whole world of trouble with this now, a transgendered person? Do you bring in a male officer, or a woman to search?”

Proper protocols are followed, according to Abela.

“We have a policy in relation to search of persons. One of the questions that we often ask people that we may have a question about is how do they identify, and if they identify differently than how they appear, or if they give us a reason to have a male or female officer search them differently than our usual search practice, we absolutely do that and accommodate that.”

Potential action items for the police service that were identified through the Diversity SWOT Analysis Report suggested increased diversity training be undertaken by all members, appointing a TPS member as a specified Diversity Officer, an evaluation of TPS policies and procedures to ensure they are up to date and current in the areas of gender and cultural diversity, a review of the complete library of TPS forms and documents to ensure they reflect proper gender and sexual references that relate to all individuals, and continued participation in community activities and interactions with all community groups.

The police service intends to implement the recommendations between 2018 and 2020, but they will involve a cost for enhanced training and other issues.

Following the presentation, the commission voted unanimously to accept the 2017 Diversity SWOT Analysis report prepared by Sr. Cst. Mathieu Champagne as information.

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