The president of the union representing Vancouver police officers says he’s disappointed that elementary school teachers are calling for a discussion on whether police officers belong in the classroom.
Ralph Kaisers told Global News on Thursday he hasn’t read the content of of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association motion calling for police to be removed from school events, along with a larger discussion on officers’ presence in schools. He said he plans to reach out to the group.
He said school liaison officers help teach kids that police are an important part of society, and that they’re good role models for vulnerable kids.
“Maybe 15, 20 per cent of kids that are — you know, where is life going to take them? They don’t have good role models, (a) number of unfortunate circumstances in their lives,” he said.
“And if we as a positive role model can influence the direction of them in their life so they end up being positive members of the community, that’s a win for everyone.”
Kaisers acknowledged there could be one or two incidents of kids having a bad experience with police, but most kids see then as positive role models.
Meanwhile, a letter to the Vancouver School Board asking that police be removed from schools because many Black, Indigenous, and racialized students and their families do not feel safe at schools where police are present.”
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The motion passed by VESTA Tuesday night also recommends that members no longer plan or attend events where VPD or RCMP officers are invited until “both organizations take clear steps to address the disproportionate repression of people of colour, including Black and Indigenous people.”
But when asked how he felt the department should address systemic racism, he denied its existence.
“I’ve been a member for 28 years and in my entire career, I have not seen a single incident of targeted racism,” he said. “I’m not saying there haven’t been incidents. I’m sure there have been.”
Global News also asked Kaisers about a 38-page report published by the department in 2018 on its relationship with Indigenous communities, which identified a number of recurring themes, including “an overall lack of trust in police” and “a need to improve relationships between police services and Indigenous communities.”
“You bring up a report that was written a couple years ago,” he said.
“And like I said, I don’t see it as systemic racism. I am admitting that there is definitely and has been issues of racism.”
A Vancouver Police Department spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on Kaisers’ remarks.
Const. Tania Visintin did provide an emailed statement on how the department provides diversity training to new hires.
“Our diversity is amongst the highest for major police departments across North America: 26 per cent of sworn officers are female and 26 per cent are ethnically diverse,” she said.
The force provides more than 200 hours of training for new recruits, she added. That includes a program on “fair and impartial policing” developed in part by the provincial government and designed to help officers reduce the impacts of implicit bias.
“The training provides specific focus on the effect of bias on Indigenous and Black communities.”