Diversity and the police service
By Brieanna Charlebois
There’s no question that the past year has been challenging for law enforcement. Fears of contracting and spreading the virus were compounded last summer when worldwide protests and calls to “defund the police” erupted in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers in Minneapolis. After Floyd’s death last May, the perception of police trickled over the border. It has indisputably taken a toll on officer morale. Police faced more scrutiny than ever before as calls for change echoed around the world.
This month’s theme is diversity in policing. It’s perhaps the most timely topic, as police interaction with people of colour remains in the spotlight. Diversity within the police service is a vital part of this conversation. This includes women and racial/ethnic minorities. Stacy Clarke, Toronto’s first Black female superintendent, encapsulates both. Her own intersectionality has played a role in her journey through the ranks. It’s also what she credits for her much for her success—and for “breaking the glass ceiling”. Her departure from the “typical” image of an officer allowed her to form strong relationships in diverse communities, aiding her in her work. This, however, was challenged last June during a Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto when she was called a “traitor to her race” for choosing a career in policing. Instead of reacting, she displayed compassion and patience in an effort to bridge the trust gap that had formed between the police and the public. She advocates for change through example—and leadership. This all begins (but doesn’t end) with recruiting.
In another feature story, Amy Ramsay, the founding president of the Ontario Women in Law Enforcement, provides an educational assessment of diversity in policing. She examines the relevance of education in recruiting more women and minorities, and provides suggestions as to why the push, which started decades ago, has not been as successful as desired. The Back of the Book also features a story about Women in Law Enforcement’s Cross-Canada Wisdom Web, which provides future female leaders with a place to seek advice, including how to navigate a male-dominated workplace.
Another trend within this issue examines the current state of public perception. While this can be disheartening, it can also be used as a catalyst for positive change and evolution within the service. The push for diversity has been top of mind in policing for years. Statistics show that there has been much improvement but, as many of our contributors this month note, the work has only just begun.
It’s important to recognize that the push for more diversity isn’t isolated to police—even though it may be felt more acutely in law enforcement agencies in light of recent events. For instance, like many of you, I, as a journalist, have also been afforded the privilege of forging relationships within various diverse communities. Just as is the case with policing, journalism requires gaining the trust of community members. It’s vital to build strong relationships with those whom I cover—or serve, if you will. But, we definitely aren’t the only ones. There has been a cultural push in recent years to include more women and minorities in leadership positions. Many professions have been actively working toward the same goal.
That noted, it is nice to work in professions that provide the opportunity to connect with others—especially in the current state of today’s world, when most are feeling the effects of pandemic isolation. Make no mistake, it does take time and effort to make connections, but it’s always worth it.