The New Westminster police board and city council are planning to delve in to issues around police reform in September.
The police board recently approved a nine-part motion put forward by Mayor Jonathan Cote related to police reform, including redirecting police resources away from laws that criminalize vulnerable people toward public health or community care initiatives and developing a diversity and inclusion framework to guide the direction of community policing. The motion also calls on the police board to engage with the province, members of the police department, residents and groups that represent those who have experienced discrimination, and city council.
Cote, who chairs the police board, said council is very interested in working with the police board on this “incredibly crucial” work. One part of Cote’s motion was that the police board collaborate with city council to develop and implement a culturally safe engagement plan.
“We need to dig a lot deeper and reach folks with different experiences. I think there are a number of organizations that have taken really critical roles in leading this advocacy work. I would love to see us engage directly with those groups and with residents to be able to participate,” Cote said. “I think this is also a really big opportunity to connect with city council and the work of the city. Public engagement is something the City of New Westminster has always strived to have a high level with, and I think this is a particular opportunity where we are going to want to connect with the city.”
The New Westminster Police Department will report back to the police board and city council on police reforms by the end of 2020.
On July 13, New Westminster city council received a letter from the police board outlining the work it plans to address in the coming months.
At that same meeting, council approved a motion to work with the police board and to direct the city’s chief administrative officer to work with the police chief and the director of human resources on the development of a comprehensive work plan and budget to implement the motion.
Chief Const. Dave Jansen said he’s been working with city staff to put together a detailed work plan about how the police department will start to work towards addressing the various aspects of police reform. A joint meeting of council and the police board is being planned for September.
“Council is interested in this issue and does want to work with the board. I think there will be a lot of value in having the board work with city council directly so both bodies can have a good understanding of where the different perspectives are,” Cote told the police board at its July meeting. “Council also recognizes this is actually a pretty big scope of work that we were looking to take on. There will be different areas – some within the police, but some outside the police, whether that’s intergovernmental, with the city or other city departments like human resources, that could be very involved in this work.”
The chief constable and the senior management team are responsible for the day-to-day management and operation of the police department, while the police board provides oversight and direction to ensure the department is acting in accordance with the Police Act. The board also works with the department to develop a strategic plan, an annual plan/budget and policies.
New Westminster is among the B.C. municipalities served by its own police force, rather than the RCMP. The City of New Westminster’s 2020 budget indicates policing is the most costly service in the city’s operating budget, representing $31.6 million of the $135 million budgeted for general services.
Christine Dacre, a member of the police board, supports the work that’s being proposed.
“I guess I am anxious to see the work plan because I am also cognizant that we need to ensure that we are not blurring the lines of what each of the city council and what the police board are responsible for,” said Dacre, who wasn’t at the June police board meeting when Cote’s motion was approved. “Without having had that conversation, I am just anxious to see the work plan because I am a bit concerned without seeing that, that we might be going into that territory. I think it’s very important that police boards do stay within the Police Act and stay as separate police boards. I just worry that we might blur that, depending on what comes out of the work plan.”
Cote said that’s a fair comment and said it would be good to have a refresher so both bodies, the police board and city council, have a really good understanding of their jurisdictions.