Vancouver police seeking Indigenous cadets

VPD Indigenous cadet program aims to recruit more officers

Photo: Vancouver police Instagram
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Reported by Kirsten Clarke

Vancouver’s Indigenous cadet program convinced Christian Olver to become a police officer.

Olver, a Métis, was one of the first cadets to participate in the program in 2007 after he had previously applied for a job with the department.

The Indigenous cadet program, a paid program that runs for three months in the summer targeted at 19- to 29-year-olds, is one of the many ways that Vancouver police are working to recruit more Indigenous officers.

Olver spent the first half of his summer shifts – four days on, four days off – with patrol officers and on the water with the marine unit, or with the mounted or dog squads. The second half of his shifts were spent in the department’s kiosk maintaining police vehicles, ensuring that each car was cleaned and filled with fuel.

The hands-on experience showed Olver what policing was all about and helped him build a relationship with the department.

“It’s about fostering partnerships and building community trust between police agencies and the Indigenous community,” Olver said, now a detective who oversees the Indigenous cadet program.

The program now includes a week-long spiritual and cultural canoe trip with First Nations and police officers, which takes place at the end of cadet training.  

Working to increase diversity

Indigenous officers make up 1.83 per cent of Vancouver’s police force, out of the department’s total 25 per cent diversity, according to a presentation at a recent police board meeting. In Metro Vancouver, Indigenous people are 2.8 per cent of the total population.

But some say that the recruitment successes so far are not enough.

“We’ve definitely got to improve that, and from my perspective we’ve got to start younger,” said Tami Omeasoo, director of employment services at Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society and president of Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society.

Omeasoo’s organization has been working on that.

In October 2018, the department worked with Omeasoo’s employment centre, which sponsors the cadet program, to create a 10-week initiative that connects young people 14 to 19 with police officers.

Like the cadet program, the Indigenous teens meet with officers while also engaging in cultural activities like weaving.

“Our kids today, they hear so many negative things about Vancouver police officers, but when they take part in certain programs like this they see things differently. They see it with a different set of eyes,” said Rebecca Hackett, employment advisor for ACCESS.

They start to see the officers as humans, said Omeasoo, once they get to joke and goof around with them. She also encourages the teens to join the cadet’s canoe trip.

Going forward

Olver wants to see the Indigenous cadet program expand nationally and spread the word to the Indigenous population across the country that the department is looking to hire more Indigenous people.

Cadet numbers have grown over the past decade to four or five cadets each summer. The department promotes the Indigenous cadet program throughout the province, engaging with Indigenous communities to promote recruitment.

Last year, Vancouver police participated in an open house career fair in Haida Gwaii. The department has also been present at the All-Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert.

In the Lower Mainland, they have attended the Gathering Our Voices conference for Indigenous youth, and career fairs at Musqueam and Mt. Currie.

Because of the program, six Indigenous cadets have been hired to policing roles in Vancouver, West Vancouver and the RCMP since 2007.

Indigenous officers make up 5.1 per cent of all 8,966 police officers in British Columbia, according to a 2017 Statistics Canada report. In Ontario, Indigenous officers represent 4.4 per cent of the total 25,981 officers, and in Manitoba, 16.4 per cent of the total 2,572 officers are Indigenous.

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