British Columbia’s Police Complaint Commissioner says he is concerned about the Vancouver Police Department’s use of street checks, or carding – but the department says instances of the practice are rare.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which oversees complaints involving municipal police, released its annual report on Monday. The 74-page document summarizes complaints against individuals – such as a New Westminster officer who failed to reasonably follow-up on a sex assault allegation, or a transit officer who arrested a man without sufficient grounds – as well as departments.
Commissioner Stan Lowe said the Vancouver Police Board, which governs the Vancouver Police Department, has not yet delivered on recommendations regarding a street-check policy that he made after investigating a complaint.
The Commissioner cited “an increasing trend in complaint allegations involving the police practice of conducting street checks,” but the report did not provide a total.
An office spokesperson said the number of complaints has gone up, but not to the extent seen in Ontario, where the provincial government announced final regulations restricting carding in March.
Mr. Lowe’s report said a complainant alleged Vancouver police detained him and his friends on private property. The report said officers searched them and looked them up in a police database. The complainant and his friends were then released.
The Commissioner said the officers’ actions approached misconduct, but did not cross the threshold.
But in reviewing the matter, the Commissioner said he “recognized a trend in complaint allegations involving the police practice of conducting street checks which were similar in nature to this case.”
The Commissioner said in the report that he contacted the Vancouver Police Department and requested a copy of its policy on street checks. He said he was told the department did not have one but “a draft policy was potentially under development.”
“…Having reviewed the available evidence, it was apparent that the lack of policy, training and resources relating to the investigative detention of the complainant were factors in the conduct that was the subject of this investigation. Due to the frequency the members of the Vancouver Police come in contact with individuals of interest to them, all members should be well trained and proficient in the lawful application of current statute and case law with respect to the detention of individuals for investigative purposes,” the report said.
Mr. Lowe said he recommended the Vancouver Police Board examine the issue, but the issue remains outstanding.
Constable Brian Montague, a Vancouver Police Department spokesperson, said in an e-mail that the department is working on a policy for street checks. He did not indicate when it would be released.
“Of note is that each of our front-line officers write, on average, less than one street check each month,” he wrote. “They are not random or arbitrary and are written when officers encounter an individual or are called to a situation that is suspicious in nature, but there is a lack of evidence at that time to prove a crime has been committed.”
The department has about 600 front-line officers, Constable Montague said.
A spokesperson for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is chair of the Vancouver Police Board, did not respond to messages seeking comment on Monday.
Mr. Lowe’s report also described a complaint involving the police department’s Restaurant Watch program, which aims to keep gangsters out of restaurants. The complainant said Vancouver officers approached him inside a restaurant and said he was a criminal due to a 25-year-old firearms conviction in another country. The complainant, according to the report, said he had lived in Canada for 20 years without any additional convictions and was now a successful businessman.
The complainant said the Restaurant Watch program was flawed, and applying it to him did nothing to improve the safety of the public. Mr. Lowe said reviewing the complaint and others like it led him to conclude the program lacks a clear and objective policy to guide officers.
The commissioner said despite his recommendations to the board, the issue remains outstanding.
Constable Montague said the Restaurant Watch program has “helped reduce gun violence in Vancouver.”
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said his organization brought up the issue of street checks when it first met with new police Chief Adam Palmer last year. He said he last spoke with the department about a draft street-check policy last week and believed it could be released in the fall.
“Clearly, we see through this report that there are issues. And we’ve heard from members of the community too, which is why we raised it,” he said in an interview. “And to the VPD’s credit, they’re acting on it.”
Douglas King, a lawyer at the Pivot Legal Society who focuses on police accountability, said the Commissioner is in a unique position in that he sees all of the complaints that are filed involving municipal police. Mr. King said the fact the Commissioner felt the need to approach Vancouver police about street checks is significant.
“From our perspective, it’s pretty concerning. I think this is an issue that’s primarily been located in police departments [in the east] and is now more and more finding its way into West Coast policing,” he said in an interview.
Mr. King said street checks can have a devastating effect on community relations.Report Typo/Error