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VPD report shows decrease in street checks as police critics call for end to practice

Summary

Ahead of the police board reviewing a report on Vancouver street checks, critics argue the practice should be stopped

According to the VPD, 261 street check records were submitted in 2020, nearly a 95 per cent decrease from 2019

Police say that drop is likely due to a January 2020 policy on street checks

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Vancouver police board will review a report on Thursday suggesting street checks targeting Indigenous and Black people decreased last year. However, police critics are calling for an end to street checks despite the data.

For some critics, it’s not about how many people are stopped on the street, but rather that police shouldn’t be street-checking people at all.

Chief Don Tom, vice-president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, says there isn’t a legal basis to the practice.

“I think the concern that we have isn’t whether they are street checking 10 people or hundreds of thousands of people. The issue is that it sets up an imbalance in power where a person in uniform with a weapon comes up and begins to question you. And if you’re the person being questioned, it doesn’t feel voluntary,” he tells CityNews.

According to Vancouver police, street checks are any voluntary interaction between a police officer and person, which is more than a casual conversation and impedes the person’s movement.

In 2020, 261 street check records were submitted in Vancouver, which is a 94.3 per cent decrease from the year before when 4,544 were documented.

The VPD defines only 75 of those records as proactive street checks.

Police say that drop is likely due to a January 2020 policy on street checks that prohibits officers from stopping people on the sole basis of an identifying factor, like race.

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Meghan McDermott, with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), is critical of the VPD report.

“If they can continue to do their work with severely limiting how they interact with people on the street, and infringing on people’s liberty interests and privacy interests, it kind of begs the question of why they’re still so defensive about the practice, and why they keep making the case for why they need this tool so badly,” she says.

The BCCLA continues to call for a ban on street checks.

However, the police say banning street checks would hamper their ability to fulfill their oath of public office, from doing proactive police work, responding to calls about suspicious behaviour, executing warrants for arrests and checking on peoples’ well-being.

The VPD maintains that anyone who states that street checks are illegal is wrong.

McDermott believes the police are confused about their own policies.

“Members of our community are being treated as suspects when there’s nothing to be suspicious about! And so to see this continued confusion or the blurring of the lines between it is extremely disturbing. And if the police don’t know what their rights are, where their obligations end and where our human rights begin, then I’m really troubled of what the public might make of reports like this,” she says.