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Vancouver Police task force seize haul of weapons, advocates concerned about harm to homeless

Focused on low-level crime downtown, a VPD task force seized a sizeable number of weapons in a matter of weeks. Travis Prasad reports on the results of the ‘Neighbourhood Response Team’, and why some feel it did more harm than good.

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VANCOUVER (CityNews) — The Vancouver Police low-level crime task force has seized a sizeable haul of weapons and has also conducted numerous outreach checks in just a few weeks.

Some of the 210 weapons taken off the streets of downtown Vancouver in the past month and a half include tasers, bear spray and replica handguns.

Const. Tania Visintin explains an increase in street disorder reports prompted the VPD to create the Neighbourhood Response Team last month.

Visintin adds the task force usually attends calls considered low-priority where officers normally wouldn’t be able to get to for hours “if not a day” in the Granville corridor, Yaletown, and Strathcona area.

The team responded to 1,400 reports of low-level crime in 42 days.

“We may not have got this many weapons in this short amount of time if it wasn’t for this team,” Visintin says.

But last month poverty advocacy groups filed a joint complaint with the Police Board suggesting a focus on low-level crime harms the homeless.

Meenakshi Mannoe with Pivot Legal Society says the task force is doing more harm than good.

“For many people who rely on public space and participate in informal economies, an increased police presence like what we saw with the NRT, actually makes their neighbourhood much more unsafe,” Mannoe says.

But the VPD says the NRT wasn’t just seizing weapons. Officers checked on the health and well-being of those living on the street.

“Over 150 people were referred to shelters. And about 15 people successfully obtained a shelter spot,” Visintin says.

Although Mannoe explains, the concern is people who are skilled in outreach and engagement would be in a better position to do that work.

The task force was a temporary measure and is now off the street. If it is re-deployed, Mannoe says it should stick to crime – not outreach.

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