WRPS Chief Bryan Larkin wants police service to 'reflect our community better'
'The behaviours that we've all witnessed are simply unacceptable,' Larkin says
Police in both the U.S. and Canada are being scrutinized in the wake of protests on both sides of the border.
Waterloo Region Police Services Chief Bryan Larkin spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo about what the service is doing to address conscious and unconscious racism.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview below.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: On a personal level, how do you feel about the events that have unfolded — the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Regis Korchinski-Paquet?
Chief Bryan Larkin: I think I join many Canadians, and many of my colleagues, but to myself and my family, this is something that we've had much discussion about. It's deeply troubling, deeply saddening and deeply disturbing. I guess I've gone through a range of emotions from anger to being disheartened.
I do feel that policing has been set back. We need to grieve. We need to be angry. All of us need to heal. If we could just simply, for a moment, pause and imagine our racialized community and our black community and people of colour how they must feel.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: Does the Waterloo Region Police Service train for or allow that knee-to-neck restraint method that we saw used on George Floyd?
Chief Bryan Larkin: No, absolutely not. That's not an approved method of use of force. And although there's parallels to policing in America and Canada, I do want to re-emphasize that we're very much different in Ontario, we're very much different in Canada, in the sense of oversight, training, use of force model, civilian oversight.
I know internally, speaking to many of our frontline officers, and I've had many officers reach out to me personally, the behaviours that we've all witnessed are simply unacceptable. And of course, obviously the judicial process that's happening in Minneapolis is the right process.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: We have heard stories from black people in this region, though, who are afraid of police officers. Four years or so ago we talked about carding. That is no longer allowed, but they just feel like they're singled out for road side traffic stops. Can you tell us what practical, tangible things that the force has implemented to address either discrimination or racism on the force or even the perception of it in the community?
Chief Bryan Larkin: It's disheartening for me and it's concerning for me as the chief that people feel as such, Craig, because it's not the environment we want. But I recognize that that's how they feel and or that's the reality of what's...
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: Well, in this case their perception is reality. Right?
Chief Bryan Larkin: Exactly. And I want to acknowledge that and recognize that I am listening.
But a couple of pieces: It really started to create with the launch of our equity inclusion and diversity unit. We obviously have been doing a fair bit of work and it sort of also builds on the challenges we face as an organization around gender equality, our sexual assault work that we do externally and internally.
But this year, in March, we launched our first ever equity and inclusion diversity plan, which is our roadmap to where we're heading as a police service. And that included the Police Services Board led by Chair [Karen] Redman, all senior leadership team led by myself, the entire middle leadership team participating in mandatory implicit and subconscious bias unconscious bias training and education with an external diversity has been altered.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: So, is this geared at recruiting more diverse officers?
Chief Bryan Larkin: It's two-fold. Absolutely, we want to reflect our community better. We need to do more work and we have a targeted recruitment campaign that is very focused on our diverse neighbourhoods and our diverse community.
All the big leaders are going through implicit mandatory training, as well as all of our members are going through that right now. And then a secondary phase of that, slightly impacted by COVID because we have to postpone some training, is the rollout of anti-black racism training anti-racism training.
The other piece that we've been working on internally is our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and so all of our members right now are going through mandatory Indigenous awareness education and training so you know we're setting the foundation, setting the platform. More needs to be done. There needs to be more outreach. We're an organization that aren't afraid to open our doors. And I think if you look at the work we've done around sexual assault and gender equity and gender equality with our partners, we're in a much better place organizationally.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: How many of your officers identify as diverse?
Chief Bryan Larkin: That's one of the challenges, Craig. One of the other pieces of the [equity, inclusion and diversity] report that we're rolling out is an internal census because we're required by law, through Stats Canada, to track equity in the sense of gender.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: But not race? So you don't have a percentage? You have no idea?
Chief Bryan Larkin: We don't have a percentage. We track gender, as I said, we also track Indigenous. But we're just rolling out an internal census because, where do you start if you don't know really who you are? We are now collecting, for example, race-based data around our use of force, et cetera. And we've actually been working with the province around how do we advance this as a profession?
Obviously, we have human resource information systems. But when somebody applies, we track gender, but we don't track race-based data. And it's time for a change in our organization. Our recruiting team has a significant diversity strategy that will ensure that we continue to recruit and reflect our community.
Waterloo Region has changed immensely in the 30 years that I've been here, so for me, I think that we're setting the foundation. It's never fast enough for me. I'm impatient on these issues. But I will say I do believe we're making incremental change, but we can't do that alone.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: There is something else I want to touch on and that is: the word defunding is being used. To defund the police and the money be redirected to social programs to address the root causes of crime. You and I have talked about this. You've even commented to me on the air that you're being called to respond to things that are really social issues that have just escalated. How willing would you be to sit down and have a serious discussion about hiving off some money from the police budget to redirect it to programs like social housing and mental health care?
Chief Bryan Larkin: My mantra is, if we don't address poverty, if we don't address the marginalized, if we don't actually address our housing issue, the need for policing will increase. And so my door is open.
I will see it from a policing perspective. We're a lean organization. I recognize people throw out our total budget number, but I can tell you that our members work very diligently to try to be everything to everyone, which is quite frankly not reality.
But when you look at some of the challenges of violent crime, organized crime, human trafficking, drug trafficking, we're looking to actually focus on some of the larger crime issues and actually redirect. I think one of the best examples that we're doing right now is our work with our mental health nurses the impact team wears seven days a week, 17 hours a day and mental health nurse is embedded in all of our three of our urban divisions and they actually respond and support with mental health calls.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo: How fast do you think you can make these changes? Are we talking weeks, months? Even getting the diversity data. How fast can we get that?
Chief Bryan Larkin: I guess I'm an optimist by nature. I think that when you look at the arc of change, I think we've been making progress. Obviously, it's going to take just more than the police service to have these discussions. If you look at for example in Kitchener the great work of the Working Centre, The House of Friendship, Public Health, Social Services, our diverse communities. We need a much larger broader discussion.
I do feel that we're in a crisis. I do feel that society is angry and we're going through a tumultuous time. But I do believe in a lot of these storms that there's great opportunity for reform, for moving things and moving issues forward and creating the urgency of change.
I don't have the crystal ball with what that looks like, but I can tell you that I've had conversations with the solicitor general I have a conversation with the regional chair daily. I'm looking forward to meeting our community and engaging our community on these issues. We're rolling into a new strategic plan. So, the timing is very well for this change.