On November 9, 2020, the Vancouver Police Department announced that it had redeployed units to target several downtown neighbourhoods to respond to "street disorder issues". Pivot Legal Society, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society filed a Service and Policy complaint to the Vancouver Police Board in opposition of such a unit seeking an immediate halt to their operations.
Read the complaint below and the joint press release.
Vancouver Police Board
2120 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V56 4N6
16 November 2020
Dear Police Board Members,
RE: Service & Policy Complaint Regarding the VPD Neighbourhood Response Team
We are writing on behalf of Pivot Legal Society, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS) to file a Service and Policy Complaint in accordance with s. 168 of British Columbia’s Police Act.
Specifically, we are writing to complain about the inappropriate creation of the Neighbourhood Response Team, as reported by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) on November 9. Based on the VPD press release, beginning on November 2, officer and community safety personnel were redeployed from other duties to this new team. This team has been deployed to quickly respond to “street disorder issues” based on calls generated by the public. Notably, the issues identified are not necessarily criminal in nature: disturbances, suspicious circumstances, people trespassing, and mischief.
In justifying the creation of the Neighbourhood Response Team, the VPD cites an independent survey conducted by Leger, a “market research and analytics company.” Leger’s Mission, Values and Commitment make no mention of expertise in criminal justice, human rights, or policy reform and instead reference “market culture and trends.” The Leger survey, conducted in October 2020, consisted of 11 questions intended to convey the “perceptions of crime.” The survey results are based on answers provided by 755 respondents, only 48% of whom live in Vancouver, 13% who work or conduct business in Vancouver, 11% who visit the city regularly, and 28% who have no identified relationship to the city. Notably, no peer-led, health, advocacy or social service organizations were identified as respondents. This approach belies an inappropriate response to the current drug poisoning health crisis.
Direction of Vancouver City Council
In July, Vancouver City Council unanimously voted to decriminalize poverty and instead support community-led safety initiatives at a meeting of the Standing Committee of Council on Policy and Strategic Priorities. With this motion, Council asked staff to report back with a plan, timeline and budget to de-prioritize policing as a response to mental health, sex work, homelessness, and substance use and to prioritize funding community-led harm reduction and safety initiatives in these areas.
Considering the priorities mandated in the July 7, 2020 motion detailed above, it is wholly inappropriate for the Vancouver Police Department to create a new team whose purpose directly contravenes City Council’s resolutions. We believe that the deployment of the Neighbourhood Response Team will exacerbate disproportionate and discriminatory policing of people who rely on public space in several Vancouver neighbourhoods, specifically the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, Gastown, and the Granville Entertainment District.
More recently, in October, City Council approved a motion regarding public safety in the City of Vancouver. This motion specifically:
- Directed staff to organize a professionally facilitated town hall, inviting the Mayor and Council, with a focus on dialogue between residents and community delegations and understanding concerns related to inclusion, health and public safety citywide; and
- Directed staff to work with the VPD to report on information and recommendations, including neighbourhood-specific action and specific consideration to improve public safety for vulnerable and marginalized people in Vancouver.
Mandate of the Vancouver Police Department
The Police Act explicitly states that the municipal police board must consider the priorities, goals, and objectives of the council of the municipality. Rather than engage in civic processes, the VPD has unilaterally established a Neighbourhood Response Team, ignoring the municipal priorities outlined by Vancouver City Council, as well as numerous stakeholders in the City.
The creation of the Neighbourhood Response Teams undermines the VPD’s stated approach to mental health, outlined in the Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy. This Strategy states that the VPD has overarching objectives of client-focus and the recovery model, and the VPD consistently acknowledges that addiction is primarily a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.
This reflects all research and reports coordinated by the VPD, leading to the determination that
the majority of people who are living with mental illness and who come into negative contact with the police require some form of access to care or community support [...] in many instances the actions of the individual are minor, or of a nuisance nature, and driven by a state of crisis attributable to mental illness.
Furthermore, the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan of the VPD outlines the organization’s “community-focused strategic priorities,” which include community engagement. Despite this emphasis on engagement, the Neighbourhood Response Teams have been created based on the results of inadequate polling.
- The VPD must halt the deployment of the Neighbourhood Response Team;
- The VPD must disclose all expenditures, policies and practice documents related to the creation/deployment of the Neighbourhood Response Team; and
- The VPD must supply City Council with all information requested in the Vancouver City Council Motion “Decriminalizing Poverty”: an itemized account of the work done by the Department policing mental health, homelessness, drug use, sex work, and the amount of money spent on it, including the number of tickets issued from enforcing related bylaws as well as the cost of this enforcement.
Issues of “street disorder” or “public nuisance” are demonstrably linked to systemic inequities including poverty, colonialism, racism and structural stigma., Rather than contribute to the criminalization of people who rely on public space and people who use substances, we call on the Vancouver Police Department to implement the above recommendations.
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society
Board of Directors
Pivot Legal Society
Meenakshi Mannoe, Policing & Criminalization Campaigner
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Board of Directors
BC Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender
Director of Police Services, Brenda Butterworth-Carr
Police Complaint Commissioner, Clayton Pecknold
 Vancouver Police Department, “SURVEY SHOWS HEIGHTENED CRIME IN VANCOUVER” (2020, November 9), online: VPD https://mediareleases.vpd.ca/2020/11/09/survey-shows-heightened-crime-concern-in-vancouver/
 Leger, “Mission, values and commitments” (n.d.), online: Leger https://leger360.com/about/mission-values-and-commitment/
 Vancouver Police Department, Perceptions of Crime (2020), online: Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/s/nellutmkayai599/Perceptions%20of%20Crime%20Report-web%20version.pdf?dl=0
 City of Vancouver, REPORT TO COUNCIL (2020, July 22-24, 27), online: City of Vancouver https://council.vancouver.ca/20200722/documents/pspc20200722min.pdf
 City of Vancouver, REPORT TO COUNCIL (2020, July 22-24, 27), online: City of Vancouver https://council.vancouver.ca/20200707/documents/b4.pdf
 City of Vancouver, COUNCIL MEMBER’S MOTION - 4. Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Safety Initiatives (2020, July 7), online: City of Vancouver https://council.vancouver.ca/20201007/documents/pspc20201007min.pdf, at p. 36-37
 Police Act, section 4.1 (b)
 Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy (2016, July 8), online: VPD https://vancouver.ca/police/assets/pdf/reports-policies/mental-health-strategy.pdf
 Correspondence from the Office of the Chief Constable to Pivot Legal Society (2020, May 29)
 Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy (2016, July 8), online: VPD https://vancouver.ca/police/assets/pdf/reports-policies/mental-health-strategy.pdf at p.8
 Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Police Department | 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, online: VPD https://vancouver.ca/police/assets/pdf/vpd-strategic-plan-2017-2021.pdf
 Jade Boyd and Thomas Kerr (2016). “Policing 'Vancouver's Mental Health Crisis': A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Critical public health vol. 26,4 (2016): 418-433. doi:10.1080/09581596.2015.1007923
 Darcie Bennett & DJ Larkin (2018). Project Inclusion: confronting anti-homeless and anti-substance user stigma in British Columbia, online: Pivot Legal Society https://www.pivotlegal.org/project_inclusion_full
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.