The Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) has suspended their new campaign of “diversity cruisers” amid criticisms from the community. The campaign, which was meant to educate the community on local cultures and racial heritages, has instead faced a petition to cancel the program and continued calls to end racial police violence.
The petition was started by local PHD candidate Jessica Hutchison, and calls on the WRPS to not only discontinue the campaign, but also provide details on the total cost of the project. She also asks that the money spent on this project instead be donated to Black and Indigenous led community organizations.
Following community backlash and the petition – which currently has over 4,200 signatures – the WRPS issued a statement regarding the cruisers and the suspension of the program.
“The campaign was intended to highlight and celebrate the rich diversity of Waterloo Region, which is reflected in the membership of our Service. This campaign was a small part of a larger Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Plan designed to promote community engagement and to ensure the Waterloo Regional Police Service is reflective of the community.”
Teneile Warren is a local activist in Waterloo Region who also spoke out against the cruiser campaign, and noted how this action was similar to other police forces in Southern Ontario. “I think the campaign was tone deaf and I’m not sure how they got to that point based on what took place in response to similar efforts in Durham and Peel. I’m surprised that the Waterloo Regional Police Service went forward with this idea, so that’s a bit concerning.”
Warren said that the steps that the WRPS is taking are not necessarily the right ones, and there needs to be more emphasis on listening to the communities they are trying to bring attention to. “I think that the police kind of need to recognize that reformation is not an option, that performance of diversity is not an option, that there needs to be real actionable change and that starts with shifting their actual relationship with the community and listening to what the community is asking them for.”
Along with Warren and Hutchison, there have been several others who called for the WRPS to end the campaign. A notable voice was the local branch of Black Lives Matter for Waterloo Region, who made several Facebook posts speaking about the cruisers and the history of racism within the police force.
“I think up to this point everything that the community has asked the police for they have taken it in and they’ve designed a version of what they think works for them rather than prioritizing and centering what the community has asked them for,” Warren said.
Currently the campaign is still suspended at the WRPS, and in the statement released to the media they said: “Moving forward, the Waterloo Regional Police Service, including its Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Unit, will continue to consult with citizens of Waterloo Region to identify, with the support and input of the community, ways in which the Service can better reflect the diverse Region we serve.”