When Police Chief Jamie Graham left a bullet-riddled shooting target on the city manager’s desk two months ago with the message, “I’m going to fuck you in the ass with a strap-on” (or something like that), Vancouver’s slumbering media suddenly remembered that the police have guns and that they kill people.
It was the first bit of bad publicity for the Vancouver Police Department in over a year and Graham ruined the free blowjobs he’d been getting from the press. After being roughed up in the media for killing unarmed people (Jeffrey Berg, Frank Paul, Robert Bagnell, et cetera) and mishandling internal investigations of its own officers, the police went on a public relations offensive (Graham posed pretty on the cover of BC Business and The Georgia Straight) and they’ve been living on easy street ever since.
But while Vancouver police officers haven’t killed anyone recently (good job, boys), things haven’t necessarily improved. According to the recent Annual Report from the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, complaints against Vancouver police officers actually increased to 220 in 2005 from 182 the year before. When John Richardson, executive director of the Pivot Legal Society (which filed 50 complaints of abuse against the police in 2002 on behalf of Downtown Eastside residents) further examined how the Vancouver Police Department handled its complaints, he found some disturbing trends.
For all other municipal forces in the province combined, only 22.2 per cent of complaints were determined to be “Not Substantiated” – which means the police felt that there wasn’t the slightest damn bit of evidence to support the allegation.
However, in Vancouver that number climbed to 67.2 per cent of complaints. For all other municipal forces, 26.3 per cent of complaints were solved by “Informal Resolution” – which means the complainant and the police ‘shook on it.’ In Vancouver, that number was just 1.6 per cent. Richardson says nothing has changed with the VPD.
“It’s still a rogue department,” says Richardson. “We get as many complaints as always, and the ways and means the Vancouver Police Department uses to dismiss those complaints are as Kafkaesque as always.”
Over the past year, a number of charges have been laid against Vancouver police officers that show street cops are still freaking the fuck out on the public. Const. Trevor Lowe was charged with assault for inappropriately using a Taser gun on a guy outside the Stone Temple Nightclub last December, Sgt. Greg McCullough pleaded guilty for punching a man after he spat in the officer’s face last October, and Const. Kevin Yuen was charged with assaulting a woman while trying to remove her from a downtown hotel in July 2005.
But somehow Vancouver police officers manage to avoid conviction – McCullough, who was also a member of the extremely unfriendly Citywide Enforcement Team (responsible for the crackdown in the Downtown Eastside), was given an absolute discharge last June.
Dirk Ryneveld, the province’s police complaint commissioner, took the Vancouver police to task last year for failing to participate in investigations. He now says there has been a “change in attitude” with the police. Ryneveld says the discrepancy in stats between the police forces can be chalked up to differences in accounting, and that the increase in complaints is due to an increase in public awareness.
“The media has let the public know that the office exists and that we’re minding the shop, and people are therefore more inclined [to make a complaint],” says Ryneveld.
Pivot’s Richardson is now demanding that Ryneveld resign, saying the only change in the Vancouver police is that Ryneveld stopped investigating them. For Ryneveld’s part, he says he’s waiting for Justice Josiah Wood to complete the province’s audit on municipal policing, which he hopes will lead to a stronger police complaint process. For everyone else, when you see Graham whip out his dildo, run for cover.