In honour of Pride Month we are excited to provide an update on one of the latest pride initiatives we provide funding for: Out On Patrol. After identifying a need for greater peer support and 2SLGBTQ+ community outreach and education, particularly in law enforcement, VPD Constable Chris Birkett, along with a handful of other law enforcement members, launched Out On Patrol in late 2019. As an incorporated non-profit society through the Province of BC, Out On Patrol serves not only 2SLGBTQ+ law enforcement members, but also the greater 2SLGBTQ+ community at large. It provides a safe and accepting space for conversation and support.
“Mental health resiliency is at the forefront of law enforcement,” explains Cst. Birkett.
There is immense value that comes from peer support and being there for one another, especially for members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Through this support, we are taking the stigma away from some of the mental health issues that, in the past, have been brushed aside and hidden away. Out On Patrol brings that support and those conversations front and centre for our members.”
In terms of the general public, a lot of positive work has been accomplished in recent years in respect to building the relationship between law enforcement and the wider LGBTQ2S+ community. Having said that, Cst. Birkett and Out On Patrol recognize there’s still a lot of work to be done there. He knows first-hand how positive interactions with law enforcement can shape people’s beliefs and attitudes for a lifetime.
“There’s a lengthy history there that we can’t ignore. We still have people today that we speak with who were subjected to discrimination from the police.”
Out On Patrol is currently sitting at approximately 220 members and is always inviting new members to join. Membership is open to any law enforcement agency member, 2SLGBTQ+ community member, and/or friend of the 2SLGBTQ+ community anywhere in the world. They have members not only from the Lower Mainland, but from across Canada, the USA and even as far away as New Zealand.
With virtual peer to peer support ongoing this past year, Out On Patrol hopes to soon return to in-person events. And while the pandemic made it difficult to host these live events, it was still a massively successful year for this organization.
“I am happy that we launched when we did because it gave us a way of getting positive messages out during a time when it was so difficult to connect with one another,” adds Cst. Birkett.
One particular segment of Out Of Patrol members that have been greatly impacted so far is retired law enforcement officers.
“Retired members went more than 30 years on the job in the closet not being able to be themselves,” explains Cst. Birkett. “Some of them are more than 10 years into their retirement and are joining Out On Patrol and then reaching out to us to let us know how impactful this organization is to them. They’ve basically waited for something like this their entire career. These are law enforcement members we that we don’t even know, who came long before us, and paved the way for this organization without even knowing it. The conversations I’ve had with them reinforce how important Out On Patrol really is.”
Cst. Birkett understands that identifying as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community while working in law enforcement is a very different story now than it was 10-15 years ago. As such, he strives to build trust within law enforcement agencies and with the community at large. They are looking forward to playing an active role in building that relationship and continuing to build confidence going forward. “We know there’s been a lot of progress and we want to continue that positive momentum moving forward.”
The next steps for Out On Patrol include hosting in-person social events and fundraisers once COVID restrictions allow. They will also continue to have a meaningful online presence and work on actively recruiting members. Looking ahead, they also have plans to reach younger demographics by hosting a series of in-school presentations where they will cover everything from bullying to 2SLGBTQ+ issues to careers in law enforcement.
For more information about Out On Patrol and to register as a member, please visit outonpatrol.ca.
Although Out On Patrol has a strong relationship with several law enforcement agencies, it is completely independent and is not directly involved in law enforcement matters.