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More police will only bring more violence to Vancouver

Jeffrey Hogan

January 24, 2023
The Vancouver 2022 municipal election results are concerning for the future of public safety in the city. We saw the election of right-wing ABC party mayor Ken Sim along with an ABC majority on city council. Leading up to the election Ken Sim and the ABC party ran a platform of fear-based rhetoric and poor bashing and called for more police. Their first priority is to fulfill their promise to hire 100 new police alongside 100 new nurses.
What services will they cut to pay for this? Where will the new police come from when recruiting is at an all time low? Great questions, but the bigger problem is how this will affect the vulnerable populations in Vancouver who already experience higher rates of police violence. More police will come at the expense of defunding community lead initiatives, like harm reduction for drug users, even when these strategies are proven to save lives. To give a general idea of what his policies would cost Ken Sim offered some projection during his campaign.
This could end up costing the city $100 million over a five year period with no clear way forward on how to generate this funding aside from pulling resources from other areas that already struggle with a limited budget.
Police won’t solve mental health crises
As a mental health worker in Vancouver, I spend time with clients who have interacted with police during a mental health crisis. Their reports make me skeptical about policing as a response to mental health issues. Mental health is a social issue and more police will only make problems worse. In fact, many people feel hesitant to call crisis lines (a crucial resource when reducing risk) in fear of negative interaction with police. If someone is already facing discrimination from police or had a violent, potentially traumatic encounter, getting police involved is no longer an option for them. This limits the options someone has for preventing their next crisis. This will likely reoccur if the root cause of the crisis is not addressed, something more police cannot solve.
If someone is suicidal calling the police is what clinicians are ethically trained to do once they have assessed risk and suicide is imminent. This can prevent the risk of suicide as the person is arrested and sent to a hospital for treatment under the Mental Health Act of BC. However, as someone who has assessed risk of suicide/self-harm and worked with clients collaboratively, I’ve heard first hand how oppressive and traumatic interactions with the police can be. Cops can be more aggressive then necessary or prone to arrest when an arrest is not needed. The ability to arrest individuals based on the VPD’s own observations leads to discrimination and abuse of power.
“Police officers are empowered under the Mental Health Act to apprehend people they believe are suffering from an apparent mental disorder based on information they receive or on their own observations. Under the Mental Health Act, police officers can transport individuals to hospital for the purposes of an assessment by a physician. Physicians may certify the individual based on their assessment but certification is not guaranteed.” -Mental Health Act of BC.
To prevent traumatic arrests, further oppression, and discrimination we need to examine the rules, criteria and limits to the way police respond to mental health calls. Police responding to someone they have no knowledge of leaves room for bias and their own personal judgement. When it comes to mental health, money needs to be diverted from police but with more funding to community based resources and organizations. This would allow us to create options other than calling the police. That would be a real increase in community safety.
Already we see that the way police interact is racialized, with more oppression and violence disproportionately directed to people of color, especially indigenous people in Canada. Police oppression is also used to protect class interests and is oppressive to people without homes living in the downtown east-side. This oppression is going to be exacerbated by responding to our mental health crisis in Vancouver with more policing.
We need a nuanced conversation around how to organize and protect community safety in the fallout of a pro-police city hall. Socialists envision a future in which police are defunded and there is a reinvestment of resources into community lead initiatives. Community safety begins with the community, not by a militarized arm of the state that puts class interest before the dignity of human lives.

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