Victoria police have ramped up efforts to reach out to various ethnic groups throughout the city in order to build relationships and trust with diverse communities.
Chief Frank Elsner and several officers recently attended a workshop at the Masjid Al-Imam Mosque, which was packed full of people. The workshop, he said, is a chance for people from various cultures to sit down with police and answer questions such as: how are police perceived in your home country? How do you see the police today? And what would help foster a better relationship between you and your police service now?’
“I want an honest relationship with all of them. I want to make sure they understand we represent them as the police,” said Elsner. “People like the opportunity to have that conversation with us and to meet us on a one-to-one basis.”
In 2003, the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Advisory Committee (GVPDAC) was created to serve as a voice between the community and the police. The committee includes representatives from area police forces, along with members from diverse communities.
When Elsner arrived in Victoria to take the reigns as top cop, he liked what he saw with the committee, but wanted to step up its efforts. Elsner tries to get out to as many groups as possible to have conversations with community leaders. So far the response has been positive.
“It means a lot to the community that the police are interested in learning more about them, their customs, and traditions,” said Steven Lorenzo Baileys of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria.
“A lot of members have said they’ve always respected the police and have viewed them as being a professional and fare agency, but we do have members who feel that sometmes they are unfairly targeted or treated, sometimes as a result of police just not being aware of some of the cultural appropriate ways of interacting with them.”
A report on the workshop with community feedback will be provided to the region’s police chiefs, along with recommendations on actions police can take to build positive relationships. Another workshop with a different community group is being planned for the fall.
Elsner recently returned to Victoria from the Canadian Chiefs of Police annual conference. The theme this year was radicalization. The big message from the conference, said Elsner, was for police to build relationships with community groups so if there is ever an issue with someone, they can be directed to police or the appropriate agency for help before it’s too late.
In the last year, there have been a handful of Canadians who’ve become radicalized and recruited to fight for ISIS overseas or carry out attacks on Canadian soil.
In 2013, a Surrey couple was charged with plotting a terrorist attack on Canada Day at the B.C. Legislature. Police said the pair were inspired by al-Qaida ideology.
Following a four-month trial, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were found guilty in June of one count each of conspiring to commit murder and possessing explosives for the benefit or on behalf of a terrorist organization. The trial is set to resume in October.
— Pamela Roth