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New Westminster Police release details about street checks audit

Policy has raised complaints in past about racial profiling
New Westminster police did two street checks involving three people in 2020. File

The New Westminster Police Department conducted two street checks involving three individuals in 2020 – a drop from 381 checks the year before.

That followed 675 street check files by the NWPD in 2017 and 689 in 2018, according to a recent report to the New Westminster police board. A street check is any voluntary interaction between a police officer and a person that is more than a casual conversation, and which impedes the person’s movement.

“In the simplest of terms, it’s where you are going to talk to someone where they need to clearly understand that they have no duty to stop and talk to you; they have no duty to provide you your name or any particulars. It is completely voluntarily,” said Chief Const. Dave Jansen. “And there is no other legislated statute (such as the Criminal Code or Motor Vehicle Act) that would give you the authority to do that.”

The report noted there has been “intense interest” in the police practice of street checks, mostly because of the “over-representation of marginalized members of society” in relation to the practice. In January 2020, the police board approved a new street checks (police stops) police to ensure members comply with new policing standards.

Jansen said the sharp decline in the number of street checks in 2020 is due, in part, to new provincial policing standards regarding police stops that took effect on Jan. 15, 2020. He said it’s also attributed to a greater understanding among members about correct documentation of street checks.

“We rolled out almost immediate in-person training to go through exactly what a street check was, all the parameters around street checks, what they are and what they’re not, how they are to be documented and how you are to approach them,” he said. “Then we followed it up with an online course, and we followed it up with more training.”

Jansen said many of the street checks that took place before 2020 weren’t actually street checks, but that’s how they were documented by police officers. He said the training helped clarify what should be classified as street checks under provincial policy.

“As an example: Someone pulls over a car because they have got no insurance. The member would do a street check on it. Well, it’s not a street check; it’s a vehicle stop. It’s under the authority of a provincial statute. It should have been dealt with as a GO (general occurrence),” he said. “I think the biggest thing that we have seen is a lot of our street checks should have been GOs.”

As part of the B.C. provincial policing standards, the New Westminster Police Department will be doing annual audits to determine if street check interactions and the documentation by police officers are in compliance with provincial policy.

“There is no requirement that we release that report publicly, but to be fair to the community, it’s something that people are very interested in, and we will continue to do that,” Jansen said. “If we do see some trends that are concerning, or we see suddenly a real uptick on a certain type of GO, then maybe we need to dig into it. We will absolutely do that.”

The report to the police board outlined the yearly totals of street check files for 2017 to 2020, the ethnicities of people who were subject to a street check in 2019 and 2020 and an analysis of street check files.

According to the report, all three people who were checked in 2020 were Caucasian. Of the 721 people checked in 381 street checks in 2019, 459 were Caucasian, 58 were Indigenous, 55 were South Asian, 45 were Middle Eastern, 40 were Black, 37 were Asian, 20 were Hispanic, while two were listed as “other” and the ethnicities of five were either unknown or not entered.

Jansen told the Record the police department hasn’t gone back to audit previous years’ statistics, but since 2020, and moving forward, it will be auditing every single street check.

“It is not only reviewed by a supervisor, it is reviewed by a civilian reviewer, and it is also reviewed by someone on my leadership team who goes back through them just to make sure that everything is conforming with the provincial policing standards,” he said. “We have put in quite a lot of stop-gaps to make sure that we are appropriately following the provincial standard and are appropriately following the legislation that gives us the authority to stop and check people.”

Recent complaint

One person who has voiced concerns about the NWPD’s street checks is Douglas College instructor and New West resident Jovian Radheshwar, who was approached in July 2020 by two police officers. In a column in the Record, he wrote that they asked if his name was Abdul and asked for his ID, at which time they decided he wasn’t the person they were looking for.

“At no point was I informed this was a street check which I could voluntarily leave, nor that it was an investigative detention which would preclude me from leaving the encounter,” he wrote.

The NWPD said the incident was an “investigative detention” as part of a search for a suspect, but Radheshwar said it was a “street check” and he was racially profiled. He filed a complaint with the police board, but it was dismissed.

Radheshwar has called for the resignations of the officers who questioned him and Mayor Jonathan Cote, chair of the police board. He has also filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

In response to the incident, B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner recommended the New Westminster police board take further action in response to the complaint.

Andrea Spindler, deputy police complaint commissioner, concluded that the NWPD’s policies regarding street checks and investigative detention should follow relevant provincial guidelines and current case law and that all frontline NWPD were provided training on the new street check policy. After considering the board’s decision and the request for review, the OPCC recommended the police board retain someone to review relevant policies, practices and training materials relating to investigative detention and use of street checks.

“The stated goal of the review should be to ensure that those practices and policies are consistent with cultural safety best-practices and address the needs of Indigenous and racialized persons who may come into contact with the NWPD,” she wrote. “I further recommend your retained expertise have no prior affiliation with any police agency.” 

A  March 2021 report to the police board by Insp. Trevor Dudar provided details about the audit of 2020 street checks. It outlined some of the instances when street checks can and cannot be done.

*The decision to conduct a street check cannot be based on identity factors and cannot be based solely on that person sharing an identity factor with a person being sought by the police.

*Random or arbitrary street checks cannot be conducted.

*Members aren’t permitted to request or demand, collect or record a person’s identifying information without a justifiable reason, such as lawful detention or arrest, an investigation of an offence and an imminent public safety threat.

*Members may request a person voluntarily provide identifying information if it serves a specific public safety purpose or objective, such as locating a missing person. It can also be required if there is a reasonable concern for a person’s immediate safety or to assist a person in distress by referring them to health or other support services.

* Police can conduct street checks when making inquiries into reasonable and legitimate public safety purposes such as suspicious activity, crime prevention or intelligence gathering.

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