Police departments in Greater Victoria hope to improve their relationships with Black, Indigenous, South Asian and LGBTQ communities by talking with people about their experiences with law enforcement.
At the request of police chiefs, the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Advisory Committee has launched a series of five conversations engaging people who are Indigenous, Black, South Asian, East and Southeast Asian and part of LGBTQ communities on systemic racism and community-police relationships.
Participants are invited to share their experiences with police. The sessions started last week and continue until Oct. 28.
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Ames, police co-chair of the advisory committee, said law-enforcement agencies are realizing they need to be curious about how they can do better.
“We can go right ahead and make the changes that we think we need, but without input from the community, they’re not going to be meaningful. So, this is sort of the first step toward that process,” Ames said.
Ames said initial discussions began in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Police are hearing from the community that they want change, and chiefs in the region are responding to those calls, beginning with these conversations, she said.
Brenda Freeman, community co-chair of the advisory committee and family service team leader at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, said she hopes the conversations will help communities establish positive working relationships with police.
Moussa Magassa, a local human-rights advocate and professor of social justice at the University of Victoria, will facilitate the sessions and prepare a report with recommendations that arise. That report is expected to be released publicly next spring.
Pamphinette Buisa, who helped organize several Rallies for Black Lives in Victoria last summer following the Floyd murder, said she sees the potential for positive impact if the conversations look beyond traditional policing.
“How do we make sure that there’s enough social services in place so that people aren’t in heightened states and aren’t in situations where they need de-escalation?” said Buisa, who works at a temporary shelter and as a support worker with people who don’t have housing.
Paulina Grainger, manager of community engagement at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, said such initiatives can lead to meaningful change as long as they’re followed by concrete action, which includes allocating adequate resources and staff to implement the recommendations coming out of the conversations.
“We want it to really count and to result in real action,” said Grainger, who represents the ICA on the advisory committee.
A report on racism in Greater Victoria released by the ICA this year found people of colour were more likely than white respondents to report perceptions and experiences of racism with police, including racial and ethnic profiling and fears of being shot.
However, the group cautions the survey included a small sample size and those who responded also indicated they would seek help from police if they experienced racism.