The Vancouver Police Department’s public relations people have been spinning in circles trying to defend the actions of a member who recently arrested a Langara College journalism student. The female student, who happens to have a law degree, was taking pictures with a zoom lens from a distance while a VPD member confronted some squeegee kids at a Vancouver intersection. The VPD member apparently took exception to the photographer’s actions and slapped handcuffs on her, citing “obstruction” as the reason for the arrest. The police officer reportedly told her that she was getting her first lesson in journalism. No charges were laid against anyone, including the squeegee kids, and the student was eventually released from police custody.

According to Vancouver police spokesperson Sarah Bloor, the student was arrested “for her own safety”. It would be tempting to write this sorry incident off as an isolated case of overzealousness on the part of the VPD members involved, but similar incidents happen much too often in the City of Vancouver.

There can be no doubt that police officers perform a difficult and often dangerous job and that they should enjoy the respect and trust of the public. From my perspective as a lawyer who routinely handles complaints of alleged police misconduct and as a person who was subjected to unwarranted abuse by the VPD, I regret to say that there is a serious problem within the department.

In my opinion, a significant number of VPD members routinely ignore the laws that they are sworn to uphold. This may be due to inadequate training, lack of proper supervision, a sense that they are immune from discipline, or perhaps a combination of these factors.

The VPD is conducting an internal investigation into the student’s complaint. This will undoubtedly be an educational experience for her as well. She will learn that a VPD internal investigation is a sham, that the Vancouver Police Board is ineffectual and that the Police Complaint Commission has inadequate resouces and an unsatisfactory statutory framework to provide effective oversight of the municipal police in this province.