Pubdate: Mon, 18 Dec 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Liz Monteiro
Page: B2


'A year of growth … year of finding our feet'

WATERLOO REGION - When police chief Bryan Larkin talks about harm
reduction and being more humane with the drug user, he gets pushback.

When he suggests supervised injection sites may be an alternative to
help users take their drugs safely and the site will save lives, he
gets pushback.

And when he flies the Pride flag at police headquarters, he gets
pushback. In each case, he gets criticism from people in the community
and sometimes from officers, too.

But the head of the Waterloo Regional Police accepts the unfavourable
response he receives. It comes with the job.

"As a senior police leader, some would describe me as unique. I don't
know if that's a compliment or not," he says with a chuckle, during a
year-end interview, as he ponders issues he will be challenged with in

"One of the roles of the chief is to be visionary and reflective," he

"For me, my job is to continue pushing us to the cliff and we jump off
the cliff," he said. "I don't think it's my position to conform or toe
a particular line.

"My job is to continue navigating through bumpy roads, through big
waves, through the storms. My job is to stay the course."

When it comes to combating the drug issue, Larkin suggests addicts
should be called users and that they need to be kept safe.

Drug enforcement for the past 150 years in Canada led to this country
having a drug issue, he said.

"If you look at it from a return on investment perspective, we pour a
lot of resources into it, but our results are minimal," he said.

He is a supporter of having officers carry naloxone to protect
themselves and help save others as the community faces an opioid
crisis. So far this year, 65 people have died in Waterloo Region of
opioid-related overdoses.

But not all chiefs are on board. Last week, Hamilton Police Chief Eric
Girt said his officers would not carry naloxone.

Larkin said in 2017 his police changed their drug efforts from the
"user to organized traffickers - and we are seeing a disruption to
organized drug networks."

"Previously, our enforcement was the user," said Larkin, who cites the
example of the alcoholic who is arrested and part of his or her
probation may include a prohibition against the consumption of
alcohol. "But how realistic is that." Instead, a condition should be
to see a public health nurse.

"This is a radical shift in thinking," he said.

This past year also saw the service focus on equity and diversity, and
an officer was appointed to solely address the issue.

"It's been a year of growth. It's been a year of finding our feet," he

Larkin said the service is taking a serious look at removing systemic
barriers when it comes to hiring, to ensure more women and minorities
feel it's a place they want to be.

"There is still a lot of work to do around diversity. We need to build
and enhance relations," he said.

Some of the testing that is done may not be fair when it comes to

"Is a spelling test a systemic barrier for a new Canadian?" he

It doesn't mean lowering standards, but taking into consideration that
a candidate who speaks another language and is fluent in English may
process in their native language first, he said.

Larkin said that often those applicants are ruled out in the first
stage and he's wondering if that is fair.

He said the equity office created an ambassador program made up of 15
officers from diverse backgrounds; they will attend events and touch
base with communities to highlight recruiting.

Larkin wants to see a service that reflects the community it serves.
That means more officers from the Muslim and black

"How do we convince the young man or the young woman that policing is
a career for them? How do we recruit more young black men?" Larkin
wants to see movement. "I want to see action. If that means we have to
set goals, set targets, so be it."

The applicant base is still predominantly white and

In January, another session for police women will be held. It will be
a forum where they can talk openly about challenges and how to address
issues they feel hamper their promotion.

Waterloo MP and federal cabinet minister Bardish Chagger will address
the group.

In 2017, Larkin and the service was slapped with a gender
discrimination suit in which three plaintiffs described a "culture of

The plaintiffs, a female constable, a former constable and a retired
superintendent, are seeking total damages of $167 million. The
allegations have not been proven in court.

Larkin said he cannot speak specifically to the suit, but the
criticism he and the service received was hurtful.

"I acknowledge we are not perfect. We have imperfections. We have
warts. We have challenges," he said. "Of course, you take it

In 2017, Larkin also created a task force of community members to look
at unfounded sexual assaults.

The task force was created after a Globe and Mail investigation last
year found that police dismiss one out of every five sex assault
claims as unfounded and no charges are laid. Locally, the unfounded
rate was 27 per cent from 2010 to 2014.

Larkin said the task force is examining 45 randomly selected sexual
assault cases. He anticipates changes to policy will be announced by

"It's not being driven by police. That is important," he

On the legalization of marijuana, which is coming in July, Larkin said
his 800 officers need to be trained. He's concerned about the timeline
for legalization, particularly as chiefs have yet to see the federal

Marijuana roadside-screening devices are not yet ready.

But his biggest worry is public safety on the roads. He and other
police chiefs across the province would like to see zero tolerance,
meaning no pot in your system when you get behind the wheel.

For now, police have focused their efforts on opioids, not marijuana,
but funding is anticipated from federal and provincial governments to
assist police once marijuana becomes legal.

"Will there be chaos in July? I don't think so," he said.
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