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Vancouver police release independent review of use-of-force policies

The Vancouver Police Department has received a review of its use-of-force policies, which identified dozens of recommendations to reshape the department’s culture, including 10 changes that should be implemented immediately.

The Police Executive Research Forum — a nonprofit, national law enforcement membership organization — entered into a contract Aug. 1 with the city to conduct the review. The city ordered the independent assessment following four Vancouver police shootings, three of which were fatal, last year.

Community tensions ran high following the spate of shootings, which occurred between Feb. 5, 2019, and March 7, 2019. Two of the fatalities involved people of color and the third involved a homeless man previously diagnosed with schizophrenia. The shootings prompted an online petition calling for police body-worn cameras, and rallies and gatherings demanding change.

The nonprofit was tasked with examining the police department’s policies, training, documentation methods, and data on use-of-force and officer-involved-shooting incidents. On Friday, the police department announced the review was finished and available to the public.

“The PERF report includes a comprehensive set of 84 recommendations that will serve as a roadmap to reform the (police department’s) culture, policies and practices around use of force,” the department said.

The recommendations identified for immediate action include the following:

  •  prohibition of any type of neck restraint, or shooting at or from a moving vehicle.
  •  restricting the use of police K-9s to “serious criminal offenses.”
  • ensuring officers ranked sergeant respond immediately to difficult situations, such as calls involving people with mental illnesses, “in which a use of force might be necessary or when a well-managed response might result in compliance without use of force.”
  • training and requiring lieutenants who conduct reviews of critical incidents to consider the event in its entirety, which should include looking for ways to improve communications, tactics, policy, training and use of equipment.
  • ensuring use-of-force reports are reviewed by each level of the police department’s command, up to the assistant chief.

The final, immediate recommendation is meeting with the community to discuss the changes. Officials here and nationwide have been on the receiving end of an unprecedented call for policing reform, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said in a statement.

“We have listened to the concerns from our residents, recognize the need for change and are committed to serving the public safety needs of all of our communities in a more just and equitable manner,” Holmes said.

“We want to improve equity, accountability and transparency, promote higher standards, and increase public trust and confidence,” he added.

The police department said it will convene a community task force to help implement the recommendations laid out in the review.

The group will help ensure transparency and accountability as the work continues, police said. It will also advise on establishing a body-worn camera program for the department, in time for the Vancouver City Council to consider it as part of the 2021-2022 biennial budget this fall.

The task force’s members will include representatives from the city council, the city manager’s office, the police department’s Diversity Advisory Team and “communities affected by police,” among others. The city reportedly has started reaching out to people to join the task force.

Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said he wants to ensure the recommendations are put in place, which involves bringing new voices and perspectives to the table.

“We are embarking on a new era of American policing, one that is more responsive to what all communities expect from their police department,” he said in a statement.

This story will be updated.


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