July 23rd, 2019

Diversity can be a strength in community law enforcement

By Submitted Article on February 11, 2019.

This week’s ‘Police Beat’ column by LPS Chief Rob Davis

Last Sunday was Super Bowl LIII (53) and with it were the usual great commercials. This year many of the ads had genuine messages embedded in them, some overt and some more subtle, as opposed to just the usual humour they’ve become synonymous with. One series of commercials paid tribute to first responders and they were very moving.

During one of the ads I was getting snacks ready for the next quarter – so more so listening than watching – when one of the NFL athletes’ voice came on over a montage of photos of first responders and NFL-ers and said something to the effect (I’m paraphrasing): “Our kids need to see somebody that looks like them who has been through what they’ve been through.”

I do not know exactly what the ad was for or the exact words, but it stopped me in my tracks. I have been very candid that there’s a need for more diversity in the public service in general and the police are no exception. The key word being ‘public.’ Our public is much more diverse than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago and we must strive to mirror that.

This inevitably turns into a debate with the pivotal question being – why? I wish I had paid more attention to who was speaking in the ad but their sentence nailed it! Whether it be cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, or the socio-economic conditions one grew up in (to name a few), one does not absolutely understand another’s environment unless they have lived it or been immersed in it.

I am proud to know many non-Indigenous officers that made a conscious decision to dedicate huge chunks of their career and life to developing Indigenous policing and Indigenous officers across Canada with the goal of developing more Indigenous officers and Indigenous leaders for the future. I would not have had the opportunities I have had in policing if it were not for some of these officers who gave me a chance to take on certain duties.

Now is the time to “pay it forward” to future officers and public servants from the Indigenous and many other diverse communities that make up Lethbridge, Alberta and Canada.

One thing I have learned is that in our efforts to develop the next generation we must cast a wide net. We have to in order to recruit diversity and develop future employees from populations that may think certain careers are exclusive, an old boys’ club, or simply out of reach. We need the inclusion necessary to create greater understanding within our agencies and expand our capabilities to address future situations.

I have spent many hours during my career answering questions from new Canadians who knew very little about Indigenous Canada and were more confused after their arrival to Canada. Similarly, I have worked in Indigenous police services that knew little about the culture of people from other diverse groups who would show up in the community to work as nurses, teachers, doctors and so on. The point is we must share, learn and grow together and it needs to begin early in one’s career journey.

I get nervous that in a time of what appears to be rising nationalism or social-tribalism, combined with the exodus of the baby-boom, a perfect storm may be brewing that will result in the loss of the lessons and work that has taken place to make policing more diverse.

Soon we will be looking and advertising for members of the public to be employed over the summer months with The Watch or as summer students in the police service. The desire is some students will be part of our partnership with Community Futures of Treaty #7. This is an awesome opportunity for Indigenous students in post secondary to come and experience the beginnings of a career. In addition, there will be opportunities for students with The Watch to guarantee a level of presence during the summer. We hope to attract students from diverse backgrounds to help teach us “the lived experience” and be a force-multiplier in language and cultural skills to make our community even better. In exchange we can offer people a chance to test drive a career. It is a win-win for all.

One of the amazing features of The Watch and Crime Watch programs I have seen in Winnipeg and Vancouver is their ability to draw applicants from the Indigenous and other diverse communities. If this is the start of a career trajectory in pubic service, perhaps these students of 2019 will be the first responders in the future so that kids actually do see somebody that looks like them and understands what they have been through.

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