As we’ve learned through Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, Inspector Colleen Yee is one of the most accomplished female members at the Vancouver Police Department. She has extensive experience and success in nearly every section within the VPD including in operations, Drug unit, Sex Crimes & Child Abuse, Planning, Research & Audit, Professional Standards, Community Outreach Services, Youth Services, Jail, and Training and Recruiting. Over the course of her 27-year career, she also spent considerable time seconded to both the RCMP as a drug crime expert and was the GVRD Drug Awareness Coordinator; and also to CFSUEBC where she led the largest surveillance team in the province. Here she had the opportunity to work some of the most dangerous files at a time when gang related violence was plaguing the province and Canada.
In addition to the success she has had on the job making the city and the province safer for everyone, she also somehow finds time and energy to first create (10 years ago) and now to volunteer with an impactful community program that is empowering girls and women – the Women’s Personal Safety Team (WPST).
“It was during my time in the Planning and Research Section that I had the opportunity to develop the Women’s Personal Safety Team,” explains Colleen. “In 2012 our Sex Crimes Unit organized a community women’s personal safety fair and they wanted to include a physical self-defense component. Because of my experience as a VPD force options instructor and decades of martial arts training, I helped develop a workshop for the event. The overwhelmingly positive experience of the participants generated such a demand that the VPD could not accommodate.”
“Realizing that there was such an interest and need for this information by women, I felt compelled to find a way to help. I took that very basic program that was premiered at the safety fair and developed a comprehensive self-protection program in 2013 which we named the VPD Women’s Personal Safety Team.”
With funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation, Colleen and her sister, VPD Sergeant Alice Yee, and their team of 30 VPD police women, have been increasing women’s personal safety and giving back to the community for almost 10 years now. (And yes, perhaps one of the only things we haven’t mentioned yet in this blog series is that Colleen’s sister Alice is also a long-time, successful member of the VPD as well!)
The goal of the WPST is to educate, inspire, and empower women to take ownership of their personal safety. Through both in-person and virtual workshops, this incredible two-hour program teaches concepts and tactics designed to be easily learned and remembered by women with no prior training in case they are ever faced with a situation of unavoidable violence.
It is 100% volunteer-supported by 30 exceptional female VPD members and has grown to support and empower more than 6,000 women across BC and the world. Testimonials from past participants have stated that what they learned saved their lives, while others have shared how their new mindsets make them not only more confident in their personal safety but also in other areas of their lives. An unexpected bonus element of female empowerment has also resulted from this program.
“WPST organically evolved into an internal mentorship network for female members within the VPD,” says Colleen. “Our volunteers are all female VPD police officers and over the years these members have grown into a very diverse group that include members from junior to senior ranks. This includes a Superintendent, Inspectors, Staff Sergeants, Sergeants, senior constables, detectives and junior officers. Typically, it is rare that Superintendents and Inspectors are able to interact with junior members and this program breaks down those barriers.”
Other police agencies nationally and internationally understand the value of this initiative and have consulted with the VPD WPST to explore how they could start similar programs in their agencies.
Since it launched in 2013, the Vancouver Police Foundation has committed nearly $115,000 to the Women’s Personal Safety Team thanks to generous support from our donors. Its positive impact on girls and women in Vancouver and beyond is both immediate, important and immense.
“The support of the Vancouver Police Foundation has been invaluable to the development and advancement of the program. If it wasn’t for the Foundation we would not have the equipment we need to run the program, be able to create and provide educational materials for participants, nor the marketing tools we require to reach more people. The Foundation was, and remains, instrumental to the development of the professional product that we are today.”
If you would like to donate to support the Women’s Personal Safety Team or any other VPD officer-initiated community programs, please donate online or call us at 604.717.3700. Gifts of all sizes can make a difference.