Vancouver Police Department sidesteps stance on DTES jaywalkers

Six years after police launched a ticketing blitz that targeted Downtown Eastside residents for such offences as jaywalking, Mayor Gregor Robertson has accepted what critics have said all along about the practice: Police went overboard.

Robertson, who doubles as chairperson of the Vancouver Police Board, acknowledged the criticism last Thursday after a police board meeting attended by the Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.

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Leaders of both organizations urged the police board to create a policy that will ensure a blitz will not be repeated in the Downtown Eastside, which saw an average of 83 tickets per month issued in 2008.

The board rejected the request based on fewer tickets now being issued and the addition of crosswalks, countdown timers at intersections and improved lighting. The city also lowered the speed limit to 30 km/h along a stretch of East Hastings.

“The police board recognized that the VPD has modified their approach dramatically from that ticketing blitz, recognizing that was overboard,” Robertson said after the meeting.

As the Courier reported last week, a police report said an average of 17 jaywalking tickets per month were issued in the Downtown Eastside in 2013.

That average further dropped to nine per month in the last half  of 2013. In 2007, police handed out an average of 39 tickets per month, 20 in 2009, 23 in 2010, 35 in 2011 and 22 in 2012.

Police Chief Jim Chu wouldn’t say whether the blitz in 2008 was overboard but said police continue to seek feedback from the community and “find that right balance between what’s appropriate in terms of enforcement, yet not coming across as being too heavy handed. And trying to find that right balance — I think we’re there right now.”

Added Chu: “We don’t want to give up the right or authority to conduct some enforcement because in some circumstances it is appropriate.”

Lawyer Douglas King said he will likely launch an appeal to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner over the board’s lack of interest in a ticketing policy.

King has reminded members in several presentations that a recommendation out of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was to reduce the number of tickets for minor offences.

The concern was residents, particularly vulnerable women, would not seek out police when in danger for fear of being arrested for not paying a bylaw ticket.

But a VPD report said it was “a widely spread misconception” that police officers can arrest someone for unpaid bylaw tickets where a warrant does not exist.

Regardless, King said he’s concerned another ticketing blitz could occur in the Downtown Eastside. Pivot obtained statistics from the police department via the Freedom of Information Act that revealed 76 per cent of 2,699 jaywalking tickets issued in the city between 2008 and 2012 were to people in the Downtown Eastside.

Another 17 per cent were issued in downtown while none was handed out in Shaughnessy, Point Grey, Oakridge, Marpole, Killarney and several other neighbourhoods in the city.

“We want to see something on paper,” said King, noting the senior executive at the department will eventually change and he’s worried a new regime could return to unfair ticketing practices. “Think about it in the long term, police chiefs come and go.”

A police report that went before the police board showed that 189 pedestrians between 2002 and 2012 either died or were injured in the Downtown Eastside after being struck by a vehicle.

The report pointed out a person is eight times more likely to be struck by a vehicle in the Downtown Eastside than in the whole of downtown.

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