The Vancouver Police Department is changing the name of its vice squad as part of its ongoing efforts to build trust lost with sex trade workers over the failed missing and murdered women investigations.
Deputy Chief Doug LePard said the squad will be renamed the counter exploitation unit. LePard described the term “vice” as archaic with moral implications.
He said the new name reflects more closely the department’s approach to investigating files related to sex trade work.
That approach, he said, is to use enforcement against sex workers only as “an absolute last resort” while focusing on their safety and building relationships to reduce barriers to reporting crime.
Sex trade worker Susan Davis, an advocate for the name change, said she was pleased with the VPD’s decision to do away with the old name.
“It’s this remnant of that prohibition, social gospel beginning,” Davis said. “It’s just such a strange word. I’m just so glad it’s gone.”
The name change is one of several moves the VPD has made recently to improve its relationship with the sex trade and aboriginal communities.
Late last year, the Vancouver Police Board approved new “sex enforcement guidelines,” which were drafted with input from groups and individuals such as Davis.
The police board also adopted a more detailed missing persons policy that clearly states the importance of handling cases involving aboriginal people, the homeless and sex trade workers.
LePard announced the vice squad name change at a city council meeting Jan. 29 when discussing recommendations from the Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
Renaming the vice squad was not a recommendation.
Of Commissioner Wally Oppal’s 63 recommendations, only one applied directly to the VPD — establishing a liaison officer whose responsibilities include assisting aboriginal people in their interactions with the force’s missing persons unit. The majority of the missing and murdered women were aboriginal. Insp. Mario Giardini of the VPD’s diversity unit now assumes the role of liaison officer.
LePard told council the department’s current version of the missing persons unit has had a solve rate of “99 per cent” since 2002. He said he knew of three unsolved missing persons cases but police believe they know what happened to the women. “Women continue to be victimized by predators,” he said. “But in terms of an ongoing problem with women going missing unexplained, that is not occurring.”
LePard pointed to the Sisterwatch program to combat violence against women as an initiative that has helped nab predators. Several aboriginal leaders and women’s groups in the Downtown Eastside helped create Sisterwatch.
Through the program, which has a tip line for reporting assaults, police made arrests in at least two cases where women were being preyed upon. LePard noted the case of Martin Tremblay, who is now in jail after being convicted of a number of sexual assaults against young women. “We would have never been successful without the information that came from the community,” LePard said.
Council also heard the VPD and the City of Vancouver continue to work on new measures to reduce the number of tickets and court warrants issued to marginalized people for minor offences. By June, the city also plans to hire two community-based liaison positions to be filled by individuals who have experience in the sex trade.