There’s nothing remarkable about the design of the community policing office tucked in behind the front entrance of the Ross Street Temple’s resource centre and library.
It’s a small room, with tables and chairs.
But its location is significant: It is believed to be the only police office of its kind attached to a religious building in Canada, according to Insp. Steve Rai of the Vancouver Police Department.
“It was a natural fit because it is the centre of a lot of things,” said Rai, whose brother Roger, also a VPD officer, was instrumental in getting the office open in 2008 adjacent to the temple at 8000 Ross St. in South Vancouver.
Rai acknowledged there was a small segment of the congregation that didn’t want the office on the grounds of the temple. But, he said, the executive of the Khalsa Diwan Society, which operates the temple, agreed the office would benefit the community.
Kashmir Dhaliwal, past president of the society, said the office has provided a vital link that previously didn’t exist. Having volunteers and police officers who can speak Punjabi and understand South Asian culture has put community members at ease when requiring the services of the police.
“That’s a big help because most of our seniors don’t speak English,” said Dhaliwal in an interview from inside a room at the temple. “People understand that police aren’t here harassing anybody but they are here to help us.”
He said many people in the community won’t travel to a police station if they have questions or concerns about an issue. Having the office adjacent to the temple and open on Sundays during the busiest day of worship is convenient.
The office serves as a satellite space to the South Vancouver policing centre at 41st and Victoria, which is staffed by two officers. Two patrol officers who speak Punjabi also liaise with temple members.
When the VPD announced the opening of the office in July 2008, the department said it would focus on domestic violence, incidents related to alcohol and gang violence — all significant issues in the community.
“The purpose of the office is to make community members understand and accept their responsibility in stopping and getting involved in educating each other of the negative impact of the above mentioned issues,” Sgt. Roger Rai said in a statement on the day of the office’s opening. “They can be accountable and provide leadership to each other and the younger members of the community.”
So, have the police seen any progress?
While Insp. Steve Rai didn’t have statistics to measure decreases or increases with domestic violence and the other issues, he told the story of a father who reached out to the office and was put in touch with police.
The parent was worried his son was involved with gangs.
“We interjected and tried to put him on a different path,” he said, noting the male was on the periphery of a group involved in violent assaults. “So that kid probably would have continued on the path with these other kids and most likely ended up in gangs and drugs. The parents would not have known and you might have another hardcore gangster five years down the road.”
For Dhaliwal, the other benefit the office has given young members of the community is a more positive image of police officers. In fact, he said, two former volunteers at the office are now in uniform.