When we first reported last fall that long-time VPD Constable Linda Malcolm was retiring after 41 years on the job, including the last 15 years as the VPD’s trusted Sex Industry Liaison, one of the most frequent questions we got was: Who is going to replace her? Today, we are delighted to let you know that VPD Detective Mariya Zhalovaga was recently assigned into this unique and very important role of Sex Industry Liaison.
The reason that name might sound familiar is because Mariya has applied for and successfully received many grants from the Vancouver Police Foundation over the last several years. In addition to her dedication to making Vancouver a safer city while on the job, she has also spent thousands of hours identifying needs and putting solution-oriented initiatives into action on a voluntary basis to support at-risk teens, families facing food insecurity, and vulnerable seniors.
As the previous School Liaison Officer at Windermere Secondary, Mariya identified the need to create a program that would engage vulnerable students in a healthy and meaningful way. Soon after, Mariya launched the Windermere Running Club in 2017. Nearly 50 students each year, from all walks of life, began training alongside Mariya several days a week, rain or shine. “Through the running club I want the students to create positive connections and I want to keep them away from negative lifestyles,” explains Mariya. “The running club gives them a sense of belonging – a sense of family.”
When schools were closed during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryia was unwavering in her efforts to keep the running club students engaged and active, so she found alternative ways to inspire them. It was through this that Mariya also discovered many families were facing serious food insecurity and she was determined to help any way she could. With support from the VPF and our generous donors, Mariya then launched the Food For Families program. After shifts and on days-off, Mariya makes phone calls to families, asks for grocery lists, and then personally shops and delivers the groceries – enough food for each family for one week. More than 100 food families in Vancouver have been a recipient of Mariya’s Food for Families program since it launched in 2020.
Most recently, in her position as the VPD’s Elder Abuse Investigator, Mariya launched a robust awareness campaign with Acting Sergeant Rob Dairon aimed at Vancouver seniors about ‘Bail Money Scams’ – where seniors were being scammed out of thousands of dollars over the phone by people claiming to be their grandchildren. “It was heartbreaking to see so many senior citizens being targeted and losing thousands of dollars,” says Mariya. “I really wanted to find a way to educate seniors as I saw this crime occurring regularly, having a devastating impact on their lives.”
On top of these incredible programs that Mariya has initiated, she is also a regular volunteer for the VPD Cadet Program. And away from the VPD, Mariya was a volunteer with the YWCA High School Mentorship Program for 10 years and is currently a mentor for the Beedie Luminaries.
Today, Mariya turns her attention to her new role supporting the most vulnerable in Vancouver’s sex industry on a full-time basis. She also looks forward to nurturing the relationships that Linda Malcolm established before her.
“The Sex Industry Liaison role is important because it is critical to build and maintain relationships with this particular community,” explains Mariya. “The relationship between these women and the police used to be very different. Because they typically struggle with multiple barriers such as mental health, addictions, and homelessness, these barriers will often prevent the women from reporting assaults and other crimes to police. Just like Linda did, I will provide resources they need and be someone who they trust, who they can go to, and who can advocate for them.”
“My goal is to combine Linda’s best practices with my own approach to supporting these women and this community.”
In her first month in this role, Mariya has been working tirelessly to connect with both the sex workers and the social support agencies that Linda worked closely with. With help from the Counter Exploitation Unit, Mariya will be distributing care packages to the girls as she meets them and listens intently to what worked well in the past and what their greatest needs are. Mariya is also looking to partner with a counselor from Family Services of Greater Vancouver that she can provide to these women on an ongoing basis. She is also carrying the same cell phone number as Linda had, making it easy for the women and agencies to reach her when needed most.
This also includes rebooting the ID4ME program on the downtown eastside that Linda started ten years ago after she noticed most of the people she worked with didn’t have government issued ID. As a result, they couldn’t access services many of us take for granted including taking a bus to travel out of town for family visits or ceremonies, opening bank accounts, collecting their common experience money from the government and more. Without acceptable identification, their quality of life and need to survive led some of these women to commit petty crimes for food, shelter, and clothing. Linda’s ID4ME program resulted in over 1,200 pieces of identification being issued in the downtown eastside and will be one of the first initiatives Mariya will reactivate this summer.
Another unique initiative Mariya will support in her efforts to protect the sex workers is in partnership with the VPD’s Counter Exploitation Unit. Together they will create several videos to raise awareness about human trafficking which will be presented in high schools across Vancouver.
It is important to note that these initiatives are in addition to the day-to-day support and investigations that Maryia will provide this community.
“I have big shoes to fill. Linda did such an incredible amount of work. I am so happy to be working with this community because that’s where my passion lies.”
Mariya has transformed the lives of countless Vancouver youth, families, and seniors since she began her career at the VPD 15 years ago – so it is only natural that her next step is to reach and support the city’s most vulnerable women.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.