A known sex offender sits on a bench in a playground in the middle of the day. A person shines a flashlight into cars in a parking lot where there has been a recent increase in auto thefts. A man is seen peering into windows of buildings in a quiet industrial area late at night.
Vancouver Police officers encounter suspicious circumstances like these in our city on a daily basis. And, in all of these situations, I would fully expect my police officers to engage these individuals and conduct a street check.
With the news coverage and social media conversations about street checks and ethnicity, I would like to provide some context on how police officers use street checks and why they are a valuable public safety tool.
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.
The VPD’s street checks are not based on ethnicity. If our officers see potential criminal activity or a threat to public safety, they are bound by law, including the Police Act, to address it. The police have a legal obligation to preserve peace, prevent crime, and keep citizens safe. A person’s race does not factor into an officer’s decision to take action to prevent a crime.
There is a strong association between street checks and criminal charges. The numbers show that the percentage of street checks by ethnicity is comparable to percentages by ethnicity for charges and recommended charges.
The VPD does not control where crime falls along racial and gender lines. It is unrealistic to expect population and crime ratios to be aligned. For example, women make up about half of the population and men make up the other half. However, more than 80 per cent of crime is committed by men. It’s important to note that the majority of our street checks involve Caucasians: in 2016, Caucasian people made up 46 per cent of the population and 57 per cent of total street checks.
Our officers work hard every day to keep Vancouver safe. This means being proactive when they can, by using tools like street checks, to help prevent Vancouver residents from becoming victims of crime.
It is important that police are accountable to the public. The Vancouver Police Department will review the policy complaint submitted today to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and provide a fulsome response with additional data, analysis, and context, in the coming weeks.