A Vancouver Police Department report examining the force’s use of street checks has recommended formalizing a policy on such stops that meets coming provincial standards, releasing data on them once a year and providing extra training for officers.
The report, which will be discussed at a police board meeting on Wednesday, comes three months after the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint about the checks. The groups said data released by the force through a freedom-of-information request showed the stops disproportionately involved people who were Indigenous or black.
The force has denied the stops were discriminatory, a position it repeated in its report. It said its analysis showed most street checks were of people previously involved in crime and occurred where violent crime was prevalent.
But a spokesperson for the groups that filed the complaint said the report makes clear that the checks are problematic.
In its report, posted online on Monday, the department said it is “dedicated to ensuring that the rights of citizens are respected.
"Therefore, VPD members will not stop, question or detain any person for a reason based on prohibited grounds of discrimination, or engage in ‘racial profiling,’ ” the report said.
The data the force released earlier this year said 16 per cent of street checks in 2017 were of Indigenous people, who make up about 2 per cent of Vancouver’s population. It said 5 per cent of checks were of people who were black, who make up 1 per cent of the population.
The percentages have been about the same over the past decade. In 2008, about 15 per cent of individuals checked were Indigenous, while about 5 per cent were black.
In its report, the department said 80 per cent of street checks last year involved repeat offenders. It said those individuals had been suspects in an average of 22 criminal investigations. It said street checks tended to occur in high-crime areas and in places where officers received the most calls for assistance.
The report said street checks were also used to assess the well-being of vulnerable individuals, such as those with mental health or addiction issues or homelessness. It said 23 per cent of checks from 2008 to 2017 involved people who were homeless, although it was unclear whether all of those stops were to check on their well-being.
A department spokesperson said it could not comment on the report before Wednesday’s meeting.
Among the report’s six recommendations was a call for the police board to formalize street-check standards into a policy that adheres to new provincial standards expected next year.
The report went on to say street-check data should be released each year to strengthen public trust and transparency, and officers should have additional training to ensure they are using street checks appropriately.
The report also recommended an officer act as an Indigenous liaison to facilitate communication between patrol officers and the Indigenous community. In addition, it recommended furthering relationships to help officers understand the experiences of the people they serve. Lastly, the report said safety and well-being checks should become a new category in the records system.
Dylan Mazur, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said he appreciated the report.
“We’re pleased that they’ve acknowledged there’s a problem,” he said in an interview.
He said he was also glad the report discussed the psychological and physical effects of street checks. He called for the next step to be a report from the perspective of those who are stopped.
“That’s what we’ve asked the police board to do, to initiate a study that includes the perspective of affected communities on their experience of street checks,” he said.