Vancouver police pull ‘tactical response’ promotional video after backlash

Vancouver police have taken down a recruitment video showing images of heavily armed officers in tactical gear, some with weapons drawn.

The video was one of several posted Tuesday with the introductory text, “This is who we are,” and promoting the Vancouver Police Department as “the place to be.” The footage, set to dramatic music with quick cuts shows stylized images of police rappelling down buildings and structures amid some explosions. In other shots officers clad in helmets and body armour are shown brandishing assault rifles.

The other videos focused on different aspects of policing — one on community-based initiatives, one on the K9 and mounted units, and another on forensic investigation.

Some on social media questioned the decision to feature militarized police, while other questioned how much it cost to produce.

“What kind of people are you hoping to draw with that kind of video? Why are you highlighting violence/aggression over public service?” one user wrote.

“Too bad taxpayers will never see that money again. Maybe think through your actions before acting. That’s good practice in all of your activities,” said another.

The department took down the video shortly after it was shared.

“After listening to your feedback, we have pulled the “tactical response” video. We apologize if the images were upsetting for some, particularly during current world events,” a tweet said. CityNews has asked for clarification on what this is in reference to.

“You must realize this isn’t just a question of poor timing or ‘some’ being overly sensitive. VIOLENCE is not something we want from our police. We want prevention, community, compassion, care,” a user who welcomed the move said.

“The images weren’t upsetting. It’s that as an organization you thought it was a good idea to make it, because the people attracted to it are who you are looking to recruit. That’s what was upsetting,” another said.

However, others objected to the video being taken down, saying it highlighted part of what police do.

“The images are just the reality of one aspect of what law enforcement needs to do their jobs to enforce laws and keep our communities safe,” a user commented.

Const. Tania Visintin, in a statement, explained that the intent of the social media campaign was to offer a wide-ranging view of what the job may entail.

“VPD released several short videos today to highlight the diversity of career opportunities people have when they join VPD. As BC’s largest municipal police agency, we offer career options that no other agency can compete with,” she wrote.

“We want applicants to know all the career options VPD has to offer – whether it be investigative, community relations, forensics, K9, Marine Unit, or Emergency Response Team, just to name a few. Tactical officers, like canine, ERT, and our Mounted Unit, are important aspects of front-line policing. We want applicants to know that tactical aspects are a real and necessary part of public safety.”

SFU Criminology Professor Rylan Simpson, has studied the way officers’ appearance impacts the public’s perception of police. He found that things like black gloves, sunglasses, and batons can give people the impression police are aggressive, militaristic, and predatory.

“We tend to see the likelihood of that officer being perceived as aggressive increase,” he explained.

“The likelihood of the officer being perceived as favourable outcomes — like approachable, friendly, respectful, and accountable — decrease.”

Simpson says he found the VPD’s decision to focus on this part of the job was somewhat surprising in light of the ongoing discussion about use of force by police, which was reignited after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis in 2020. Fatal incidents in Canada, such as the police shooting Chantel Moore during a wellness check, have led to a growing push for police to focus on community interventions and de-escalation.

“With regards to the role of police, we’ve seen a lot of conversations happening both locally, as well as abroad, in other places in Canada as well as the United States about the kinds of work that we want our police to be conducting. I certainly think that that kind of work wouldn’t traditionally align with the very depiction of policing that was presented in the video,” Simpson told CityNews. 

“I think now people are wanting much more of a community-focused style of policing. That kind of policing philosophy doesn’t typically align well with the very militarized appearance that we saw the officers depicted in.”

However, he says police departments in cities across Canada and the US are facing challenges with recruitment, and many are trying to reach prospective officers in different ways. In his current research, Simpson says he has seen an emphasis on the “action-packed” parts of policing.

“I’m seeing this emerge as a very popular theme amongst police recruitment videos. And so from that respect, it’s not uncommon to see police use the excitement portion of the job to try and excite others about joining the profession,” he says, noting the impact of this is not yet clear.

“Whether or not that is an effective strategy for recruiting the very kinds of people contemporary police want to hire is a whole different question, and one that continues to remain open to empirical research.”

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