Policing away poverty doesn’t work

Last time we checked in with the folks from the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group, they were on a mission

Last time we checked in with the folks from the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group, they were on a mission to educate the public with their newest report Out of Sight: Policing Poverty in Victoria. Two months later, project coordinator Ashley Mollison and the VIPIRG crew are putting theory into practice, starting with city hall and the Victoria police force.

Starting this month, the group’s campaign will focus on identifying solutions to two of the major problems identified in the report: social profiling by the police, and a range of bylaws and policies that serve to criminalize the day-to-day actions of our street community.

The goal, says Mollison, is to “raise awareness about the discriminatory policing practices taking place on Victoria’s streets,” and to promote an approach to poverty that doesn’t revolve around increased policing.

“Policing away poverty doesn’t work. Constantly ticketing and harassing street-involved people for minor infractions is ineffective, expensive and detrimental to the wellbeing of people on the streets, a majority of whom live with disabilities, mental illnesses, suffer from chronic illnesses and/or use illicit drugs.”

Released earlier this year, the report creates a disturbing picture of the relationship between law enforcement and the local street community. Much of the data simply confirms the harsh reality of life on the street — the prevalence of drug abuse, chronic health problems, disability and mental illness in the community should come as no surprise.

Accepting the nature of extreme poverty, VIPIRG’s campaign focuses on the more surprising findings. According to the report, confiscation of safer drug-use supplies and personal items (like family photos) by police; reports of Police Act violations; unnecessary or excessive use of force; racial and social profiling are among the routine behaviours.

From our police chief — hounded by a seemingly endless barrage of discreditable conduct charges since his days with the Vancouver Police Dept. — to the department’s new strategic plan, which offers little beyond a string of vague goals like “Develop the Best” and “We Are Trusted,” it’s clear that accountability doesn’t always come easy to the VicPD.

With any luck, this campaign will provide a much-needed public voice in the future of local law enforcement. M