British Columbia

VPD renews safety concerns in Oppenheimer Park and DTES with officer assaults up 68%

The Vancouver Police Department say assaults against officers are up 68 per cent in District 2, which includes Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside.

Police emergency calls to the park have increased by 87% from June to August compared to 2018

Vancouver fire and park board officials take away mattresses while checking on vacant tents at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC) (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Vancouver Police Department is renewing its concerns about safety at Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside, warning the level of public safety in the area is deteriorating. 

So far this year, police say they have seized 453 firearms, almost half of which were from District 2, which includes Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside.

"In my 30-plus years with the VPD, I have never seen such high numbers of weapons seized in one district alone," said Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow in a statement. "The numbers almost average out to one gun seized each day so far this year."

Police say the number of assaults against officers in District 2 is also up, jumping 68 per cent from 19 incidents to 32 this year. Most recently, police say some of their officers had bottles thrown at them when responding to a call in the park last weekend. 

The number of police emergency calls to the park has also increased from 202 to 378 between June and August,  compared to the same period last year.

"We first raised this issue publicly in July, and it has only gotten worse," Chow added. 

Police presence having negative effect, study says

This comes just days after a study from the University of British Columbia and the B.C. Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) released a study that said the police presence in the DTES was having a negative effect on drug users. 

According to the study, having police officers in the area created barriers for people trying to access overdose prevention sites. 

Some of those interviewed for the study reported negative encounters with police and hesitation at calling an ambulance when witnessing an overdose for fear of police showing up. 

Bill Spearn, inspector with the organized crimes section of the VPD, said Friday on The Early Edition that BCCSU did not reach out to the department when conducting the study.

He said the VPD has had a policy in place since 2006 to not respond to non-fatal overdose calls with hopes of encouraging people to reach out for help without fear of being arrested or charged.

Spearn also noted the VPD arrest very few people for simple possession, estimating there have been only 15 arrests for possession so far in 2019.

According to Spearn, police officers are often in the vicinity of overdose prevention sites because they tend to be areas of high crime from which the VPD receives a lot of calls for service.

"We get 13 or 15 calls a day just to that area," said Spearn. "So when we are in that area it's not because we're trying to disrupt people going to those sites."

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