‘There’s room to grow’: Police force focuses on anti-racism, bias
January 31, 2023 By Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Jan. 31, 2023, Quispamsis, N.B. – The Kennebecasis Regional Police Force has beefed up its anti-racism and diversity efforts in light of the region’s growing newcomer population.
The police force’s anti-racism efforts were lauded in the Systemic Racism Commissioner’s report on systemic racism in New Brunswick, released in December 2022.
Insp. Anika Becker said the force has included diversity, equity and inclusion focuses in its strategic plan, and will also be developing an anti-racism strategy in order to encourage people from racialized communities to join the police force.
Becker said she first applied to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police equity, diversity and inclusion committee in 2019, but wanted to keep emphasizing the police force’s anti-racism efforts following the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison for murdering Floyd after kneeling on his neck for several minutes in May 2020. Floyd’s death, recorded by a bystander, sparked months of protests against police brutality across the United States and around the world.
His death also prompted Becker to “take a critical look” at the force, she said.
“Do we have systemic barriers, unconscious biases?” she said. “What does the death of George Floyd mean, not just for policing but for the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force?”
The region’s considerable population growth, spurred largely by immigration, was also a driving force behind the force’s efforts.
“Newcomers are a large part of our community,” she said, “we do a lot of engagement, and ensure our officers do the same, so they can have a better understanding of cultural differences.”
The police force has also established its equity, diversity and inclusion community committee, which includes members of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force and community members, including PRUDE Inc. (Pride of Race, Unity & Dignity through Education) and the Saint John Newcomers Centre.
The group meets for consultation several times per year, Becker said.
Li Song, managing director of PRUDE, said her organization’s education coordinator has been “working actively” with the Kennebecasis police, teaching about unconscious bias, stereotypes and more.
“It’s important to see the anti-racism, and also to add a message of building diversity,” Song said.
She added her organization is “always there to challenge them” especially when it comes to diversifying the police force’s complement.
“There’s always room to grow,” she said, “but they’re giving their best effort.”
Kennebecasis police chief Steve Gourdeau said Becker received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal for her work with the force.
Dr. Manju Varma, who served as New Brunswick’s systemic racism commissioner, highlighted the anti-racism efforts of the Kennebecasis police, as well as the Miramichi Police Force.
“Both chiefs and their force actively worked to build trust with various ethnic communities and understood the need to educate themselves on systemic racism,” the report reads.
However, the report continues, “other conversations with leadership revealed an alarming reliance on stereotypes, a lack of empathy for newcomers and reluctance to accept the presence of systemic racism in the justice system.”
Varma also raised concern of the lack of race-based data for street and traffic checks, calling the data available “spotty and random.”
“At best, this lack of tracking demonstrates a lack of understanding regarding systemic racism; at worst, this omission demonstrates a lack of care regarding systemic racism,” she said in her report.
In addition, Varma’s report says the RCMP ignored her office’s request to see racial data collected on a federal level.
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