Black Lives Matter demonstrators around the world have spoken, and the chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service says he has heard them, loud and clear.

The question now, really, is what kind of change unfolds as a result.

“It’s certainly an opportunity for us to look within our own organizations and to have larger dialogue,” Bryan Larkin said, speaking to Communitech President and CEO Iain Klugman in Tuesday's instalment of True North TV, the weekly tech-for-good conversation available on YouTube.

Larkin’s comments come in the wake of protests stemming from the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer. Video of the episode sparked demonstrations worldwide, including here in Waterloo Region. Floyd’s death also ignited a larger conversation about the role of police, the conduct of police and whether police forces should be defunded and money redirected to social programs.

Many of those themes were raised in the preceding True North TV episode with Laura Mae Lindo, the MPP for Kitchener Centre, the NDP’s anti-racism critic and the chair of the NDP Black caucus.

“I would describe myself as very socially oriented,” Larkin said. “I have a very different approach to policing. I feel very strongly about the community that I live within.

“We're ready for the tough conversations, we're ready to listen, we're ready to make a change.”

Larkin joined the Waterloo Regional Police Service as a front-line constable in 1991. He was appointed chief in 2014, after serving a two-year stint as Guelph's police chief.

He said he understands that, as a white male, he comes from a place of privilege. And he said that while the local police service has made many progressive changes in recent years, including to its hiring policies and training, “there's a lot more construction to be done.

“And that may include some remodeling, if I can use that analogy.”

Larkin said that he is committed to creating a diverse police force, and says while progress has been made with respect to gender equity, admits the force has “struggled” to make the force more diverse.

“Certainly the last couple of weeks, for our police service, for the policing profession in Ontario, nationally and globally, it has been very challenging, although it's certainly an opportunity for us to look within our own organizations and to have larger dialogue.

“[And] although it's been challenging, my role as the chief of police is to ensure that we lead. And it's also to ensure that we listen, and that we hear intently from our community.

Larkin called the killing of Floyd “simply horrific.

“Watching the events unfold and watching a particular incident is very disheartening, it's saddening and it brings about a number of different emotions – anger, frustration.”

Larkin said that steps were under way to change policing even before the protests. He said he supports the involvement of other agencies, rather than police, in responding to mental health-related calls, calls which, in some cases, escalate to the use of deadly force.

“I don't believe the judicial system is the cure-all for all of the issues that we face within policing,” Larkin said.

The Waterloo Region Record recently spoke with several Black officers from Larkin’s force. Like Larkin, they said they support reforming aspects of the police service, particularly with regard to boosting mental health programs.

“Death at the hands of the police is always a community tragedy. I look at all of the deaths where police are involved …. How do we pause for a moment as a community and look at all the different interactions that we've had with this individual? Could we have done anything different? Could we have actually supported [them] differently? Could we have had a different, more holistic, wraparound approach?”

True North TV continues next week with an interview with Canadian software developer Tim Bray, who was part of the University of Waterloo project to digitize the Oxford English Dictionary (and which would later become Open Text). Bray resigned in May from his position as a vice-president at Amazon due to treatment of its workers and has since called for Amazon to be broken up.