Complaint filed against new Vancouver police team

A joint complaint has been filed against the VPD’s new Neighbourhood Response Team. Travis Prasad explains why opponents call the low-level crime unit discriminatory.

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VANCOUVER (CityNews) — It’s been two weeks since the Vancouver Police Department launched a new unit to respond specifically to calls of disorder downtown, now several community groups say the task force does more harm than good.

Pivot Legal Society, Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society, and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users have filed a complaint with the Vancouver police board calling for the immediate suspension of the Neighbourhood Response Team.

That team was launched earlier this month after the VPD commissioned a survey of 800 people, most of whom responded that they were concerned with rising street disorder downtown. But opponents say that survey was flawed.

“This survey was about perceptions of crime, yet there was no consultation with people who actually live in any of the identified neighbourhoods including the DTES, Chinatown, Gastown, and the Granville Entertainment District,” says Meenakshi Mannoe with Pivot Legal Society.

“We’ve communicated our concerns and the reasons we think the team needs to be halted immediately.”

Last week, police said they have received more than 300 calls and seized dozens of weapons, but Const. Tania Visintin added the team has also been offering help.

“Not only are we dealing with crimes that are happening, or criminals who have these weapons, we’re getting people connected to the hospital. To mental health workers,” she said.

Mannoe says police are not the people who should be playing this role, and sending officers to attend calls of open drug use or people sleeping in doorways paints the homeless as criminals.

“Rather than using law enforcement and potentially traumatizing and further criminalizing people, How can we support them through upstream approaches? Maybe peer-led intervention when someone is in a state of distress,” she says.

Last July, Vancouver city council approved a motion to decriminalize poverty. At least one councillor says the only solution to low-level crime and ‘street disorder’ is housing.

“We can’t police ourselves out of homelessness. That will never work. It’s unfair to people who are homeless, and it simply won’t work. We need housing. We could do it. We’re a rich enough society. And that’s what we should do,” says Jean Swanson.

The VPD plans to respond to the complaint at a police board meeting on Nov. 30

Complaint to VPD - Neighbourhood Response Team

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