The New Westminster Police Department has a new policy in place for street checks, a practice that has long been criticized for perpetuating racial profiling by police.
The Vancouver Police Department was under fire after data released in 2018 showed overrepresentation of black, Indigenous and people of colour targeted by street checks, a recurring complaint in jurisdictions throughout North America.
The data showed 15% of all street checks were of Indigenous people and more than 4% were of black people. Meanwhile, Indigenous people make up just over 2% of the population in Vancouver and black people less than 1%.
As a response, the province introduced B.C.-wide policy on street checks late last year and gave local police forces until Jan. 15 to develop internal policies.
The NWPD’s policy, along with a newly created policy for investigative detentions, was introduced to the police board at last week’s public meeting.
Street checks, according to the policy, are voluntary interactions between police and a person “that is more than a casual conversation and which impedes the person’s movement.” A street check may involve a request for identification.
It also acknowledges the instance of psychological detention, in which a person may wrongly believe they are not free to leave without direction from the police officer they are interacting with.
But psychological detention does not necessarily mean a person is being detained – if a person is not officially detained, they do not need to provide ID to an officer.
The policy bars street checks based on “identity factors,” such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and others; street checks based on a person sharing an identity factor with a person wanted by police; and “arbitrary or random” street checks.
Police must also ensure the person is aware they’re free to go at any time, that they don’t need to provide ID and that they don’t need to answer any questions. But the policy also acknowledges that, despite the reminder, people may still feel psychologically detained based on the context of the street check or the officer’s actions.
Psychological detention may also be pervasive for different people, based on age, race, physical stature, homelessness and “level of sophistication,” and if an officer believes a person is psychologically detained, they are directed to end the interaction.
An officer may ask the person to voluntarily provide ID, which can be denied without consequence, if the reason relates to a call for service, a missing person, “objectively reasonable” concern for the person’s safety or helping a person in distress.
Officers must also file reports following street checks, including the reason for the interaction, the identifying information collected, factual information and observations and whether the officer told the person the interaction was entirely voluntary.
Along with the street checks policy, the board also was introduced to the newly created policy for investigative detention, which occurs when a police officer “decides that a person with whom they are interacting is not free to leave,” according to the policy.
NWPD spokesperson Sgt. Jeff Scott said the decision to develop that new policy was a result of the provincial policy on street checks.
“We felt it was practical to codify the investigative detention authority in a formal policy,” Scott said in an email.
“Therefore, our members would have clear direction on their different levels of authority and responsibility during arrests, investigative detentions and police stops.”