Police announced the “Safe Place” program this week as Vancouver braced for some 100,000 celebrants to line West End streets for Sunday’s annual Pride Parade. Restaurants, stores and other businesses showing the rainbow Safe Place decal pledge to offer help to those who come to them fleeing or seeking to report a hate-motivated attack.
Officer James Ritter, the Seattle Police Department’s LGBT community liaison, said he developed the program after hearing that many hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgender people in his city went unreported.
“The victims of these crimes for years had not been heard and were afraid to come forward,” Ritter told reporters at the Vancouver launch.
“We as a police force found this alarming — if we didn’t know this was happening we cannot devote any resources to them and hold the people to account that do these heinous crimes.”
He said the decals have served to educate the public and police about hate crimes and how to respond to them.
“This symbol also lets the criminals know that this business is an extra set of eyes and ears for the police department to report their behaviour,” Ritter said.
The program has been adopted by other U.S. police agencies, while Vancouver is the first city in Canada to implement it.
In Seattle, there has been an increase in the reporting of hate crimes since the program’s launch during the city’s June 2015 Pride celebrations, Ritter said.
“We had eight felony assaults involving the LGBT community during the weekend of Pride last year, resulting in seven arrests, which was unheard of,” he said.
“In two of those cases, they occurred in safe-place locations, one of which the public was holding the suspects when the police arrived.”
The Vancouver police website has a video explaining its program to business owners. Vancouver police hate crimes unit Const. Dale Quiring said support for victims would typically involve a business calling police and offering a safe haven until police arrive.
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