Diversity Resource Team bridging the divide
Over the last 30 years, the city of Calgary has grown immensely. The city’s police service has needed to grow alongside it to reflect the changing communities within the city.
In 1979, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) created a specialized team to engage with different communities around the city, and make sure police and citizens are working together.
Const. Raul Espinosa is a liaison officer working with the Calgary Police Service Diversity Resource Team for five years.
“The Diversity Resource Team is a result of some initiatives that came out of the need for the police service to be more connected with the community,” he said.
“When Calgary Police Service looked around, they realized that no one knew anything about these communities that lived with them as neighbors,” says Const. Alan Chamberlain, Indigenous liaison officer with the Diversity Resource Team.
In the 80s and 90s, the country started to feel the effects of immigration and reparation. This demanded police invest more in diversity.
“There was conflict, so that forced our team to expand,” said Espinoza.
CPS began to work to understand different communities’ needs and issues, while building strong relationships as a way to prevent crime.
In 2002, the city also faced a crisis with the LGBTQ community, when a police raid shut down Goliath’s Sauna and Texas Lounge, a well-known gay bathhouse.
After that incident, and outcry from the LGBTQ community, CPS also realized the need to dedicate a liaison officer to focus on the LGBTQ communities, as well.
Today, The Diversity Resource Team’s portfolio includes liaisons working with Aboriginal, African, Caribbean, Latin American, Middle Eastern, European, South Asian, South East Asian, communities, a liaison dedicated to Sexual and Gender Diversity, as well as reducing hate crimes.
Sgt. Arlene Padnivelan, Diversity Resource Team team leader, calls her team “conversation starters.”
Their job is based around education and transfer of knowledge between officers and communities.
“We do a lot of education both internally and externally, and we help to mediate disputes that might happen in protests and that sort of thing. We also educate newcomers to Canada and older people about scams,” said Padnivelan.
For Const. Carlamay Sheremata, liaison for Africa, Caribbean, and Latin America portfolio, the team shows the police service is approachable.
“By developing a relationship with the communities, we allow them to ask questions, and also allow them to know what their rights are,” said Sheremata.
The Diversity Resource Team also runs education programs for international students and K-12 schools.
Elizabeth Ly, who works with the Diversity Resource Team’s education programs, believes the ability to build relationship with newcomers is a rewarding experience. She recalls many occasions when students were afraid of the police at first. However, after the presentation, they were taking selfies.
“When they feel a connection to the police, and when they understand what the expectations are, they definitely get involved less with the police in in a negative way,” highlighted Padnivelan.