Longueuil police aiming to hire more non-white officers

In a push to be more diverse, the Longueuil Police Service wants to recruit more officers from minority communities, a strategy that the police chief hopes will also build trust among youth.

"We always have to try to build some bridges between us and the youth, sometimes [there is] a lack of trust. So it's our responsibility as a police department to be able to get closer and closer to the community," police chief Fady Dagher said in an interview with CTV Montreal.

"We need diversity in the police force."

Part of the strategy to diversify the force is to not only target youth, but their parents as well, he said. Dagher, born and raised in the Ivory Coast, said some racialized families don’t want their children to become police officers since they might view law enforcement in their native countries as corrupt. In fact, Dagher said he didn’t tell his own parents he was a police officer until after he joined the academy.

"At that point I told them, 'Well, I'm thinking to become a police officer,' [but] I was already a police officer. So, I was scared of the reaction of the family," he said.

As Longueuil police looks for recruits from various backgrounds to better reflect the community it serves, Dagher wants to send a message to youth that "anybody who is different, can have a chance to succeed."

However, part of the distrust at the heart of the policing climate are cases of racial profiling, including a case in November when a judge ordered the Longueuil police to pay Joel DeBellefeuille, a Black man, $12,000 in a human rights case. DeBellefeuille was followed by police in his BMW for more than a kilometre while dropping off his son at a daycare before he was pulled over.

Longueuil police currently has 40 racialized officers, which represents roughly five per cent of the force, and will attempt to hire five per cent more — a number that DeBellefeuille says should be higher.

"I mean, of course, any little bit helps, but I think that five is a slightly low amount of people ... to basically help the cause. I think that they need to hire a heck of a lot more,” he said Friday.

Dagher said it’s important for police to not only identify biases in policing but to also take action. Earlier this week, 10,000 students participated in a panel discussion led by Longueuil on police on race issues.

Recruiting racialized people will be a challenge that the police service can overcome with more proactive outreach in the community, according to Fo Niemi, executive director at the Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

The fallout of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, has only heightened tensions between minority groups and the police, including in Montreal. 

"Particularly among the Black community and other racialized communities, the police are seen as racially biased and not welcoming and not equitable. So, it has to overcome a PR problem," he said.

The police service is not the only one that said it will soon try to diversify. Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said he is also promising a plan soon to hire more officers from different backgrounds.

-- With files from CTV Montreal’s Maya Johnson

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