Cops, Chinese partner in patrols
More than 20 years ago, the Vancouver Police Department was determined to increase its accessibility and acceptance in the Chinese community while providing more effective services. By embracing the concept of community policing, the department developed an active partnership between the police and residents that resulted in the establishment of the Vancouver Chinese Community Policing Centre (VCCPC).
The VCCPC is not a satellite police station; instead the center is operated, staffed and governed by members of the Chinese community.
“Initially the center’s main purpose was to overcome the language barrier that existed between the community and the police department,” said Karen Lowe, the center’s executive director. “Now we do more than offer translation in Cantonese and Mandarin. We provide crime prevention information, assist victims in reporting crimes and help prepare them for a court appearance.”
The center was founded in 1992 by the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Chinese Cultural Centre, SUCCESS (a non-profit organization for immigrants), the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association and the Chinese Freemasons. The VCCPC is staffed by six full-time employees with more than 50 volunteers in devising programs and services that are community based. The C$250,000 ($232,800) yearly budget includes funding from the city, provincial and federal governments along with grants
We are like a partnership and an outreach to the Chinese community and not just in Chinatown. We can assist in translation not only when the community needs to talk to the department, but also when the department needs to talk with the community,” WES FUNG 29-YEAR VETERAN OF THE VANCOUVER POLICE FORCE
Constable Wes Fung, a 29-year-old veteran of the Vancouver police force, is the center’s liaison officer with the police department. He has been a witness to change in his career.
“I was Chinese cop number six when I joined the department,” he said. “Now there are over 90 Chinese police officers. More so than before the Vancouver Police Department recognized the diversity in the community and now it is reflected in the ranks of the department.”
Fung said the most important role the center serves is as a visible communication link between the department and the community.
“We are like a partnership and an outreach to the Chinese community and not just in Chinatown. We can assist in translation not only when the community needs to talk to the department, but also when the department needs to talk with the community,” Fung said.
Fung was born and raised in Canada so his Cantonese skills are somewhat limited. This is where the volunteers come into play, using their language skills to guide citizens and police officers through the collecting information for use in investigations and court proceedings.
Community pol i c i ng depends heavily on trust and Fung understands the role he and the center have played in establishing that trust in the community.
“That’s a big part of my job — to build and maintain trust in a community where sometimes the police aren’t trusted or liked very much.”
In 2012 and 2013, members of the Chinese community in Vancouver were targeted as part of the “blessing scam”. Preying on elderly Chinese women, victims were told that an evil spirit would harm them or their family members if they did not have their money and valuables blessed by the scammers. During the blessing, the scammers would switch the money and valuables with a bag of worthless items. The victim would was told not to tell anyone or open the bag.
Eventually police arrested four Chinese nationals who were deported. Apparently they were part of an international ring as Vancouver police worked with law enforcement in other areas of Canada and the US on similar incidents.
“The center helped to make a video that informed citizens of this activity, and I think it probably helped to prevent more incidents,” said Fung. “The center not only warned citizens, but they helped us gather information and even return stolen jewelry and other items to some of the victims.”
Despite its idyllic setting, Vancouver is plagued by problems that bedevil most large cities — drugs and gangs. “The Chinese community is much like a river,” Fung said. “The top appears smooth and tranquil. But underneath there are currents of unrest.’’
“Just about every ethnic community has a problem with either drugs or gangs,” he said. “Victims have been intimidated in many cases and are afraid to come forward. We are working with the center and I think we are making some progress on changing this.”
Sgt. Kevin Bernardin said the police department is very supportive of the VCCPC and the other community policing centers.
“Because the centers are not under direct police control, I think it makes them a more valuable asset for the department and the community,” he said. “We like the fact that the center is not a police station. We think this makes members of the community more comfortable.”
Bernardin said the department is especially grateful for the volunteers. “They provide a real service to the community. They help us in crime prevention and victim services beyond translation assistance. We believe that the message is much more likely to connect if it comes from a neighbor rather than just a police officer.”