Police services around North America have been challenged in the last year to do better outreach with marginalized groups, and the Guelph Police Service is no exception. A recently-launched police program meant to promote better relations between the police and minority groups is now coming under criticism though with one group of residents saying that the Guelph Police never consulted their community in the first place.
To recap, the Guelph Police announced earlier this month five new positions called Community Liaison Officers, who role is “to build a mutual trust, understanding and respect between the Guelph Police Service and their assigned community.” Each officer is meant to liaise with a different underrepresented groups in Guelph including Indigenous people, the Black community, LGBTQ+ people, and members of the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim faiths.
Guelph Police are also launching something called the Safe Place Program, a coalition of businesses, residents, and organizations in the city who will assist LGBTQ+ people that may be the victims of hate-motivated crimes and incidents. According to the Guelph Police, everyone in participating in the program will “receive a specially designed Safe Place sticker to be placed prominently on their front window.” That sticker will then tell LGBTQ+ people that this place will “provide them with shelter and safety, and by assisting the victim in contacting police to report hate-motivated crimes and incidents.”
Sounds good, right? On the surface, the answer is yes, but it seems like these programs came to be without much input from the very people they were trying to help. An open letter is making the rounds on social media, apparently authored by members of Guelph’s LGBTQ+ community, alleging that no one they know was consulted on either of these projects before they were begun by Guelph Police. At the same time, they note that there’s already a program similar to Safe Place that is being operated out of HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health, or ARCH.
The following letter was shared on the Facebook page “Overheard at Guelph.” The letter outlines in detail the issues that the anonymous author, or authors, have with the Community Liaison Officer and Safe Place programs, and it’s presented here as written and shared on “Overheard.”
We are queer and transgender members of the Guelph community who oppose Guelph Police Service’s (GPS) recently launched “Safe Place” program. This initiative is channeling city funds to develop a program that already exists in the community.
ARCH (HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health) provides a fulsome training for businesses and individuals throughout Guelph who are interested in providing more inclusive and accessible services. This program, known as Voices of Value: LGBTQ+ Cultural Competency Toolkit, was developed in conjunction with our communities and includes in-service training provided by someone with lived/living experience. Here’s a summary of how this program works:
- Participant organizations must complete training provided by ARCH.
- After their training, they are then eligible to receive a sticker to advertise their commitment to providing LGBTQ+ friendly services.
- ARCH maintains a list of all organizations that have committed to upholding the specific values outlined in the training.
- ARCH provides support to the business to improve knowledge, awareness, and skills if any incidents of discrimination do come up afterwards.
- ARCH also provides support for individuals who experience discrimination from these businesses.
- If these businesses do not fulfill the requirements, their stickers are removed and they are excluded from the database of participating organizations.
- This demonstrates the weight that ARCH places on the experiences of those within the queer and trans communities – they value our voices and listen to our feedback about customer experiences.
We are confident in ARCH’s ability to consistently offer services that are safer for us and our loved ones, and are appalled that Guelph Police Services believes they can better meet this need by further policing our over-policed communities. We are fearful and enraged when faced with the impacts this “Safe Place” program would have on the most marginalized people in our community.
Guelph Police Service did not acknowledge Voices of Value, a program which already exists within our city, before deciding to develop their own initiative, GPS did not reach out to ARCH. The GPS program provides a sticker without any qualifying training, without any input from our community, and without followup to maintain the commitment to the community. It is a sticker and a commitment without meaning or teeth.
GPS reached out to a single LGBTQ2IA+ organization in this city, Guelph Pride and its parent organization, Out on the Shelf (OOTS), to initiate a working relationship. The Guelph Police Service LGBTQIA2S+ liaison, Abigail Campbell, asked numerous questions of Guelph Pride/OOTS that showed little to no critical thinking or effort on their end with the expectation for our volunteers to do their homework for them. GPS also failed to disclose their intent to create this “Safe Place” program. Guelph Pride/OOTS let Abigail know that Guelph Police Services would need to meet the demands required by Black Lives Matter (BLM) in order for the organizations to feel safe engaging with GPS. Guelph Police Service did not meet any of these demands nor send any response to Guelph Pride/OOTS.
One of the recent demands of BLM that GPS could have conceded to, but did not, would be redirecting funds from police services to community organizations and services that can better meet the needs of our people. Especially in these times of COVID, our front-line workers in our city, many of who are part of the queer and trans communities themselves, are doing work while underfunded and under-recognized, as evidenced by the City of Guelph’s poor allocation of resources.
We reject the GPS “Safe Space” program and Guelph Police Service’s abysmal attempts at showing queer and trans communities that we “can trust the police.” Guelph Pride/OOTS clearly articulated what the Police Service needed to do in order to begin decreasing the harm it does to our communities. GPS refused to follow through.
Concerned LGBTQ+ Citizens and their allies.