Mayor Kennedy Stewart has announced that police “street checks” of Vancouver residents and visitors have decreased by 89% this year and that he wants to put an end to the practice for good.
The mayor said in a news release Monday that recent measures implemented by the Vancouver Police Board and others ordered by the provincial government have led to the decrease in checks, where officers stop and question people on the streets.
“Now is the time to bring the practice to a complete end,” Stewart said. “Black, Indigenous and other communities of colour have long called for an end to this practice, and that is what I hope to see happen at the police board.”
The mayor said he will introduce a motion to council to make that happen, but the move puts Stewart in an awkward spot since he doubles as chairperson of the police board, an automatic position when elected mayor.
Stewart cannot move motions at police board and only votes in the event of a tie. But the board will nonetheless receive a letter from the mayor and chairperson himself calling for an end to the street check practice, if he gets the support of council.
The mayor’s move is based on requests from civil rights organizations calling for a ban on street checks and a series of police-related changes as outlined in his motion, which he will introduce this week but likely get heard at a future meeting.
Those changes include the police board establishing a Black and African Diaspora advisory committee and having current and future officers take historical awareness and cultural sensitivity training regarding the experiences of black people.
Similar training has been in place for officers about the history of Indigenous peoples, who are continually overrepresented in prisons, the city’s homeless counts and overdoses. The police department also has an existing Indigenous advisory committee.
Const. Tania Visintin, a VPD media relations officer, said in an email Monday that street checks continue to be a “valuable proactive crime prevention tool” for police, even though they are used infrequently.
Visintin said a street check occurs when a police officer encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction.
“They are not random or arbitrary checks,” she said, noting the number of street checks decreased 91% when compared to the previous year. “If this trend continues throughout the year, it will equate to less than one street check per frontline officer in a calendar year. In comparison, for every street check conducted, there are 500 calls for service for police.”
In June 2018, a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act required Vancouver police to post data on its website that showed police conducted 97,281 street checks between 2008 and 2017.
Of those checks, 15% (14,536) were of Indigenous people and more than 4% (4,365) of black people. Indigenous people make up just over 2% of the population in Vancouver, and black people less than 1%.
The police department conducted its own review of the findings, which led to a further police board-ordered review by an independent consultant. That review was unable to conclude that officers were motivated by racism or bias when stopping a person on the street.
“Overall, very few of these street checks appears on its face to be unwarranted or unreasonable,” said the report, concluding more than 40% of the street checks were “justified with a bylaw stop” and another 25% justified as “possible criminal behavior.”
As for the mayor’s desire to end the practice of street checks, Visintin said the department will await further discussion and policy direction from the police board. In the meantime, the VPD’s new and current street check policy can be viewed here.