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BCCLA worried about possible discrimination in VPD's street checks

Last Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 11:54 am PDT

(Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

The BC Civil Liberties Association is calling for an independent review of the VPD for its street checking policy

The BCCLA is worried about discrimination when it comes to the VPD's street checking

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Civil rights workers want the Vancouver Police Department investigated for how it conducts street checks — commonly known as “carding.”

This comes as statistics from the VPD show a disproportionate number of people who are “carded” by officers are minorities.

“Recent statistics that came out that demonstrate clearly that Indigenous people and black people in the city of Vancouver are being stopped by police at a rate that far exceeds their share of the population,” explains Josh Paterson with the BC Civil Liberties Association.

The BCCLA and Union of BC Indian Chiefs both filed the complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner Thursday morning calling for the independent review.

Paterson believes there may be discrimination, and points out this isn’t just a Vancouver issue.

“We’re also asking for the province to take a very serious look at this practice right across the province. It so happens that a reporter got the data on the VPD last week. But we hear allegations about these kinds of practices all over the province, throughout the Lower Mainland, and Northern and rural BC as well with RCMP and other municipal forces.”

Freedom of Information request: VPD Street Check Data 2008-2017 (Courtesy Vancouver Police)

The VPD calls street checks a “valuable public safety tool,” and says they are based on a crime or action, not ethnicity.

“Police officers have common law duties to prevent crime, enforce the law and apprehend offenders,” reads a statement by police on the VPD’s street check policy.

According to that policy, a street check is done when an officer “encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction.” That person’s information is usually then taken down.

“Obtaining accurate and timely information is an integral component of each and every duty performed by a police officer,” the VPD adds.

The BCCLA’s concerns come after a Freedom of Information request was posted on the police department’s website.

Paterson says street checks frequently happen on the Downtown Eastside. “With the rate Indigenous people, they represent two per cent of the population. They’re 16 per cent of all the checks done by the VPD. I mean that is this past year.”

He says the number is shocking, and describes it as an “over representation.”

“The statistics on racial disparity in street carding demonstrate the lived reality of institutional racism that our people face despite the public rhetoric and celebrations around reconciliation,” Chief Bob Chamberlin, Vice-President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, says in a release.

Paterson hopes an investigation will bring about a change. “I think this data set provides the right opportunity, and provides the evidence, that there is a real problem here. I’m confident that it’s going to be looked into and I’m very hopeful that we can come to a resolution that results in people not being discriminated against in this way.”

‘I would like to provide some context’: police chief issues statement

In response to recent coverage of how street checks are performed by police in Vancouver, VPD Chief Constable Adam Palmer has issued a statement.

He stands by the claim that street checks are not based on a person’s ethnicity.

“If our officers see potential criminal activity or a threat to public safety, they are bound by law, including the Police Act, to address it,” Palmer’s statement reads. “The police have a legal obligation to preserve peace, prevent crime, and keep citizens safe. A person’s race does not factor into an officer’s decision to take action to prevent a crime.”

He says it’s “unrealistic for population and crime ratios to be aligned,” and adds the majority of street checks conducted by the VPD involve Caucasians.

Read Chief Constable Adam Palmer’s full statement below: 

A known sex offender sits on a bench in a playground in the middle of the day. A person shines a flashlight into cars in a parking lot where there has been a recent increase in auto thefts. A man is seen peering into windows of buildings in a quiet industrial area late at night.

Vancouver Police officers encounter suspicious circumstances like these in our city on a daily basis. And, in all of these situations, I would fully expect my police officers to engage these individuals and conduct a street check.

With the news coverage and social media conversations about street checks and ethnicity, I would like to provide some context on how police officers use street checks and why they are a valuable public safety tool.

A street check occurs when a police officer encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction. They are not random or arbitrary checks.

The VPD’s street checks are not based on ethnicity. If our officers see potential criminal activity or a threat to public safety, they are bound by law, including the Police Act, to address it. The police have a legal obligation to preserve peace, prevent crime, and keep citizens safe. A person’s race does not factor into an officer’s decision to take action to prevent a crime.

There is a strong association between street checks and criminal charges. The numbers show that the percentage of street checks by ethnicity is comparable to percentages by ethnicity for charges and recommended charges.

The VPD does not control where crime falls along racial and gender lines. It is unrealistic to expect population and crime ratios to be aligned. For example, women make up about half of the population and men make up the other half. However, more than 80 per cent of crime is committed by men. It’s important to note that the majority of our street checks involve Caucasians: in 2016, Caucasian people made up 46 per cent of the population and 57 per cent of total street checks.

Our officers work hard every day to keep Vancouver safe. This means being proactive when they can, by using tools like street checks, to help prevent Vancouver residents from becoming victims of crime.

It is important that police are accountable to the public. The Vancouver Police Department will review the policy complaint submitted today to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and provide a fulsome response with additional data, analysis, and context, in the coming weeks.