WRPS Diversity Cruiser project faces backlash from local community
The Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) announced the launch of a community cruiser design intended to focus on diversity and representation.
“The first aims to capture the spirit of Canadian newcomers, as well as African, Caribbean, South Asian, and Arabic cultures,” the WRPS press release about the cruisers said.
According to the statement, police cruiser 7537 is the first of the project, with three other community cruiser designs planned to be “unveiled” throughout the year.
“This special project was developed by the WRPS Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Unit in an effort to better reflect the diverse community we serve,” the news release said.
The announcement of the initiative was met with a divisive response from local community members, with some praising the project for its purported educational opportunities and others criticizing the value it has for the people it claims to represent and support.
Jessica Hutchison, a PhD candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University created a petition to cancel the project as she believes that it does not encourage “meaningful action” and engagement.
The petition has garnered over 4,000 signatures as of Apr. 9, with a goal to reach 5,000.
“Over the past year, Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour activists have been very clear in their calls for structural changes within the WRPS to reduce the harm and violence they inflict upon their communities,” Hutchison said in an email statement.
“Absolutely nobody asked for the WRPS to wrap their cars in Black and Brown bodies or to educate and engage the public about cultural and racial diversity. This is not meaningful change – in fact, it is an attempt by the police to centre themselves in order to divert the conversation away from the one’s Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour have been having in the Waterloo Region.”
“We need to centre the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and non-white racialized people in our community, not those of police,” she said.
According to Hutchison and the CBC News article “Police shootings in 2020: The effect on officers and those they are sworn to protect,” 2020 was the deadliest year of the past four for police shootings in Canada.
Black and Indigenous people were overrepresented in these shootings and killings. 48 per cent of people killed by police in 2020 were Indigenous and 19 per cent were Black.
“Black, Indigenous, and people of colour are disproportionately harmed and killed by police,” Hutchison said.
“In Waterloo Region, Black people are carded at a rate four times their population, and are subject to disproportionate levels of ‘use of force.’ We need real, structural changes to reduce and eliminate the harm and death inflicted by police on Black and Indigenous communities.”
Hutchison encourages people in Waterloo region to seek out and engage with materials designed to effectively educate on issues related to racial injustice and violence towards BIPOC.
“There is an abundance of resources for people to educate themselves on these issues in a Canadian context and my suggestion would be to start with those produced by Black, Indigenous and non-white racialized people,” Hutchison said.
“A good place to start is Robyn Maynard’s book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present and Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In.”
The “Cancel the WRPS “Diversity Cruisers” Project” petition is something that Hutchison hopes will go beyond dismantling the initiative and open larger conversations related to police budgets and the reallocation of local law enforcement funds.
“I hope the petition will not only result in the cancellation of the project and reallocation of the true costs of the project to Black and Indigenous-led community organizations and groups but that it also amplifies the calls to defund the police and to reallocate the police budget to upstream approaches to community safety and well-being,” Hutchison said.
Update: Since this story was published, The Waterloo Regional Police Service have suspended their diversity cruiser project in the wake of criticism.
The WRPS did not respond to The Cord’s request for comment.