Don’t Be Afraid of the Police

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“One of the main struggles we face with policing in Canada is that many people come here from countries where the police are not trusted,” says York Regional Police Chief Armand P. La Barge. “They are not seen as an agency you can go to or feel comfortable with if you have a problem – in fact sometimes they are the last place you would go to for assistance. And we fully understand and appreciate why then there is a bit of a barrier – a roadblock for us to actually get into those communities to offer our services and to develop a real true partnership.”

“You do hear of police committing abuses in Canada,” La Barge admits, “but on the one hand, it’s a really good thing that the media picks it up when it happens. If it’s news, that means that it’s not something that usually happens. It’s rare and I can tell you that there isn’t a police force anywhere in this province that doesn’t have it as their goal to make sure that their officers are complying with procedures and regulations. They don’t tolerate anyone breaching someone’s rights under the charter of rights and freedoms. We have a public complaints process where complaints are objectively and thoroughly investigated.

“York Region and York Regional police are extremely inclusive and what we’re trying to do here, is to create an environment where newcomers feel welcome, create an environment where they can access any service any service in their language. We have a host of officers who speak different languages – we have a translation service. You should feel very much at home here…and that your police service is just that – your police service.”

Reaching into the Community

La Barge gets enthused when he talks about the 44 initiatives York Regional Police’s Diversity and Public Resources Bureau has in place to reach out into the communities.

“We have sensitivity and education sessions for our police officers. The diversity training isn’t just for recruits. All officers have to go through annual training. And every week at re-qualification a member of our Diversity and Public Resources Bureau attends and brings in special speakers from the community – it may be someone from the Jewish or Muslim community, it may be someone from the South Asian Community – so it’s not just religion, it’s also cultural or race based,” La Barge explains.

“One of the programs we are most proud of is our Community Insight Program. Our recruits will spend the day in different communities throughout the region. It’s a very popular program not just from a police perspective, but from a community perspective as well.”

“In our Places of Worship tour, recruits spend several days visiting mosques, temples, churches and synagogues. They learn about religion, culture and history – as part of the recruit training. They’ll spend half a day with an Imam at a mosque and then move on and have a day with a Rabbi, a Pundit or a Priest.”

Paul Chiang, a constable with the Diversity and Cultural Resources Bureau adds, “And we go out to ESL classes. Our goal there is to introduce people to the police in a non-threatening, positive way and allow them to ask any questions. When I go to ESL presentations, I always have recruitment information and I put it all out so they understand and so that I can talk to them about policing as a career.”

Career Opportunities

York Regional Police have made huge inroads in terms of recruitment. La Barge says, “We have an initiative called the Plant a Seed Program where we go and work with the diverse community out their and show them that policing is a viable career. And we encourage them to join the police – give them the positive aspect – and we take a lot of our ethnic officers out there. A lot of people are scared, so it’s an idea we try to make them more comfortable with.

“We try to attract people from all the communities – especially the under-represented communities – as police officers or civilian support staff; men and women who not only speak the different languages, but who understand the cultural and religious issues, the issues occurring within the homelands, because what happens there still has an impact on their lives here.

“We do what we call “recruiting with a vision”. Many of the young people we’re recruiting speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Urdu or Farsi but don’t read and write it. It can be a struggle for a son or daughter or grandchild to get family support to go into the profession. What we do is attempt to get some of that family support through some of our advertising in ethnic newspapers and magazines, radio and television programs. We’ve had a good measure of success. We’ve raised our diversity rate in the force from about 6 per cent to about 13 per cent in the past four years. Much of that comes from word of mouth. Our recruits may have brothers, sisters or friends who would make good police officers and they become our recruiting agents too. Although we still have areas where we struggle. We need Russian speaking officers and officers from the former soviet republics.”

Currently, the salary for a first class constable is $71,400. Canadian citizens, landed immigrants or even permanent residents can join the police force. One of the processes they must go through is to get OACP certification. Those are written exams: the first part tests analytical abilities (how well you can figure things out) and the second part tests written communication skills. Your English skills must be strong. The third part is the physical testing. And the fourth part is a video simulation. You may find that part very challenging if English is not your first language. Females can find the physical part is a little tough because you need upper body strength to go through the physical component. But if you’re ready for it – Paul Chiang says you can do it in a month. Once you get through that you just need your first aid, your CPR, and need educational documents to prove you have a minimum grade 12.

If there is confidence issue or if you’re struggling with the language – they have mentoring programs. They may hire you as civilian support staff to work in their court bureau or some other area of the organization until they feel that you are ready to compete again to become a police officer.

La Barge doesn’t merely talk about diversity, he “walks the walk”, connecting personally with members of the many ethnic communities within York Region. He even fasted during Ramadan.

La Barge say, “We live in one of the most diverse communities in all of Canada, and if we’re truly going to be a benchmark of excellent police service, these are the things we have to do.”

York Region stretches from Peel to Durham Region, north of Steeles Avenue. Populated by almost a million people and nine municipalities, the southern part of the region is very diverse. The region’s diversity in the last census was about 35 per cent, but the town of Markham is one of the most diverse communities in all of Canada. 56% of the residents of Markham were not born in Canada.

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