Vancouver Police Propose Change To Drug Strategy

The Vancouver Police department has put forward a 2009 business plan which calls for more cops on the street in the Downtown Eastside. The department suggests spending less time and paperwork prosecuting low-level drug offences in the area. (Photo: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun)The Vancouver Police department has put forward a 2009 business plan which calls for more cops on the street in the Downtown Eastside. The department suggests spending less time and paperwork prosecuting low-level drug offences in the area. (Photo: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun)The Vancouver Police Department is shifting its focus in the Downtown Eastside away from arresting and charging people for simple drug possession in a bid to keep cops on the street by avoiding hours of paperwork.

The directive, in the VPD’s 2009 business plan presented to the police board Wednesday, is part of a push to reduce street disorder in the troubled neighbourhood by increasing police presence.

Although police have always had discretion as to whether to charge low-level drug offenders, according to the business plan the priority will now be on seizing drugs rather than prosecution.

“We’ll come across people all day long who have maybe a few rocks of cocaine in their pocket, or maybe a bit of methamphetamine, [for]personal use,” said Const. Jana McGuinness. “Technically, yes, you could arrest and you could tie up two officers for four hours writing a report like that.

“That’s where the discretion will be employed. Where they can, say, seize the drugs, get the drugs off the street and then go about their business of being out there stopping other crimes.”

Less paperwork will mean more officers on the street to tackle street disorder, McGuinness said. The police business plan identifies a number of behaviours the force is trying to curb, including aggressive panhandling, squeegeeing, open-air drug markets, unlicensed street vending and sleeping in city parks.

The business plan included one notable omission. The draft plan, released in January, had included targets for a 20-per-cent increase in bylaw tickets to reduce street disorder, as well as a plan for each Downtown Eastside beat cop to do four “street checks” per block, in which an officer asks for a person’s name and identification.

But advocacy groups complained about those quotas, which they saw as the continuation of crackdowns under Sam Sullivan’s Project Civil City.

David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association described such targets as “offensive to the community.”

The quotas have disappeared from the final business plan.

“We’re very pleased to hear that they’re changing their practices and that they have been responsive to their concerns to the community,” Eby said after attending Wednesday’s police board meeting.

“We’ll be watching to make sure that that’s actually the case.”

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– Article from The Vancouver Sun.

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