Laughing and crying at the same time

Date posted: October 22, 2019

By Del Manak, Chief Constable, Victoria Police Department

LAUGHTER IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TRANSFORMATIONAL FORCES THAT THE STAGE OFFERS. By bringing together those who are divided, shared laughter helps strangers become friends, and enemies become allies. Comedy also helps us take closer, much-needed glances at the messy and “hard to look at” failures in our society which can threaten to overwhelm us with grief and anger.

That’s why I can tell you, as the Chief Constable of the Victoria Police Department, that VicPD is proud to offer our encouraging voice to the Belfry Theatre’s production of Kat Sandler’s Bang Bang. In this groundbreaking play, Kat explores violence between police officers and marginalized groups, racism, privilege, occupational stress injury, mental illness, addiction, challenging friendships and family relationships. These issues are at the forefront of much of the conversation about the role of policing today across Canada. There will be times in this play where you will find yourself laughing out loud at one moment, and perhaps crying the next.

Whether out in the public, among my officers and staff, or in private discussions, these issues are part of my daily, ongoing reality. As the first South Asian police chief at Canada’s oldest municipal department west of the Great Lakes, I’m personally and deeply aware of the themes that this play explores.

I’ve lived them.

These are issues that we need to talk about, and talk through, together, so we can all act in ways that move us forward. This play is a small part of that ongoing way forward.

There are many things that the people of the Victoria Police Department are doing to begin to address the concerns that Kat raises in her play.

Bang Bang explores how bias can shape potential outcomes before we even talk with one other. Our Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) program helps police officers recognize and work against implicit and unconscious bias; themes central to Bang Bang. Working in conjunction with a leader in this field, Dr. Lisa Gunderson, we became the first department in B.C. to train all of our members and staff in FIP. This program is now mandatory for all B.C. police officers, and VicPD officers now “train the trainers” who then bring this program into police departments across the province.

We all feel the impact of mental illness in our communities, another theme Bang Bang explores. To address this, every VicPD officer is trained in Crisis Intervention and De-escalation (CID). This training is so important that it is integrated into all of the training we do. CID training is a core component of our officers’ mandatory annual reality-based training and is a skill our officers use every day to help resolve incidents safely. Our officers and staff also take part in yearly Road to Mental Readiness training to help recognize and manage the impacts of the unique stresses of our workplace.

While Bang Bang focusses on violence against Black members of our community, similar lessons echo in the stories we hear from our Indigenous community. Indigenous members of our community have faced systemic discrimination and violence for generations, often at the hands of the police –who are supposed to protect them. We have much work to do to reconcile our pasts, build new, trusted relationships and find a shared future. The Spirit Has No Colour training that all of our officers take part in helps our officers serve with knowledge of the cultural and historical experience of the Indigenous people we serve.

It’s not just about training however. We’re part of ongoing conversations with our entire community. Many newcomers to Canada and Victoria routinely share their concerns with us and other community partners about interacting with the police. Whether newly-arrived or “born and raised” here, everyone needs to know that they are safe and will be treated with respect by my officers and staff. That’s why our officers were proud to work with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) to create and perform a discussion-focused, interactive theatrical production that explored racial bias.

It was that ICA theatre production that reinforced to me, personally, the power of theatre to allow us to hold space for these complex, difficult, but vital issues. As you enjoy Bang Bang, there will be moments where you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or both. I encourage you to open yourself to all the complicated, messy parts of this play. The laughter and the tears, the comedy and the rage are part of the experience we all share as we journey through these challenges, together.

Enjoy the show.

Del Manak,
Chief Constable, Victoria Police Department