An internal Vancouver police investigation failed to root out two officers who allegedly made racist remarks and maligned poor and vulnerable citizens last year while accompanied by consultants studying the department’s controversial use of street checks.
One officer was accused of making a number of racist remarks while the other, in a separate ride-along, allegedly “made inappropriate comments about vulnerable and marginalized people, had anger issues, and was overly terse and extremely rude to a member of the public,” according to details released this week from British Columbia’s municipal police watchdog.
The alleged misconduct was observed by the consultants and included in an October, 2019, draft report that was seen by civilian Vancouver Police Department employees who alerted their superiors, kicking off an internal probe overseen by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
The investigation was suspended last month because the officers in question did not come forward and the private consulting firm declined to co-operate and revealed that its researchers had destroyed their field notes from a dozen ride-alongs in November, 2019.
Andrea Spindler, B.C.‘s deputy police complaint commissioner, told The Globe and Mail the VPD did not try to hide this alleged misconduct after it was uncovered by civilian employees reviewing the work of consulting firm Pyxis, but it is disappointing that officers were this brazen in displaying obvious biases.
“You’d think when you’re doing a ride-along, and you have researchers observing your behaviour and your conduct, you would want to put your best foot forward, so it’s difficult to surmise why someone would make those types of comments,” Ms. Spindler said Thursday. “It is very disappointing and I don’t think those type of comments have a place in any profession, particularly policing.”
Constable Tania Visintin, a VPD spokesperson, said the two unidentified officers were characterized by the researchers as “clear exceptions” among the force.
“We have extensive screening for new officers to ensure fair and impartial policing and also have ongoing training for existing officers,” Constable Visintin said in an e-mailed statement.
The discovery of the alleged misconduct stems from a 2018 OPCC complaint by the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs that alleged Indigenous and Black citizens were disproportionately stopped in public by the VPD to have their various personal details recorded in street checks.
Vancouver City Council recently voted unanimously to ask the local police board to ban the practice of street checks. The motion will be discussed at the next board meeting in September, along with a motion from a board member asking for another review of the practice and whether it should be abolished.
Latoya Farrell, staff counsel for the BCCLA, said two officers speaking like this in the presence of researchers studying potential biases makes her wonder how often other front-line officers make similar comments.
Her organization has repeatedly questioned the credibility of the report into street checks commissioned by the Vancouver Police Board and it still has questions about why field notes were destroyed and misconduct allegations deleted from the final report.
A police board spokesperson said its street check committee provided minor input to the consulting firm Pyxis when it was doing its external review, but the firm was wholly responsible for the content of the report and their researchers did not co-operate with the VPD’s internal investigation because they do not fall under the provincial Police Act.
The principal of Pyxis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Ms. Spindler said her agency has asked B.C.‘s director of police services to review the methodology and conclusions of the Pyxis report and analyze whether private contractors should have to share more of their work when it is paid for by police boards.
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