New Westminster is establishing a committee to do a deep dive into the issue of police reform.
Council has directed Mayor Jonathan Cote to set up a working group to engage on the issue of policing reform and to provide recommendations to city council. It’s part of the city’s efforts to prepare a submission to the province’s Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.
Established in December, the provincial committee is accepting submissions as part of its consultation on a variety of issues, including: the role of police with respect to complex social issues; the scope of systemic racism within British Columbia's police agencies; and the consistency of a modernized Police Act with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Following a series of police-related deaths of Black and Indigenous people in the United States and Canada, many people took to the streets in protests and rallies across North America last summer and called for police reform in areas including use of force, institutionalized racism and police response to calls involving vulnerable people.
The New Westminster police board and city council have passed motions in support of police reforms, such as reprioritizing resources away from the enforcement of laws that criminalize society’s most vulnerable people to services that would be better served by a public health or community care framework.
In February, the New Westminster police board passed a motion asking city council to play a lead role in local advocacy efforts to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.
“The police board actually felt that council would be better positioned to do that work and play a lead on that,” Cote later told council. “This is not to say the police board isn’t supportive to be able to help support that work or work with that, but actually felt that council would be better suited to engage and take the lead on that role. I think that feeds really well into the discussion that is coming from the task force.”
The city’s task force on reconciliation, inclusion and engagement recently discussed the issue of a city submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. It recommended the city create a police reform working group to evaluate existing information and provide council with recommendations.
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa, who chairs the task force, said there’s some “time sensitivity” to the provincial process. Because the mayor is also the chair of the New Westminster police board, she suggested Cote could take a leading role in the formation of a working group, which may include representation from council, city staff and others.
“I agree this is time sensitive and I think it does require a little bit of a nimble approach,” Cote said. “I certainly would want that working group to report back to council, but I do think that type of a working group would make a lot of sense.”
Cote said the police board is also engaging in work on police reform and will be reporting back to council in the spring.
Chief supports reforms
Chief Const. Dave Jansen welcomes the city’s efforts to consider various issues related to potential police reforms. He believes it’s important to approach potential reforms from both sides by having the police and the city work on their respective issues.
“I honestly think that we are all working toward the same goal,” he told the Record. “Maybe sometimes they have little bumps in the road or little areas that we approach it differently, but I honestly believe that city council wants what’s best in the community, and so do we.”
Jansen believes there’s a “real desire and push” in the province’s police services branch to see changes made to policing in British Columbia.
“I have said it before, I’ll say it again, and I am speaking for every member I have talked to: There are things that we have been put into having to deal with that it’s just not the best way to deal with it,” he said. “But … there are very few people working at 3 o’clock in the morning, seven days a week. By default it’s fallen on the police, where of course there are better ways to approach things.”
As an example, Jansen said “it doesn’t make any sense” for police to put someone who is drunk in a jail cell.
“There’s got to be a better way to approach it. The same with mental health calls,” he said. “I truly believe that we as a society have way better ways of dealing with folks that need help, that need trained professionals that can help them, rather than have a uniformed police officer show up. I think that there is a real desire by everyone.”
The Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act is accepting submissions from British Columbians until April 30. Details can be found at www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/rpa.