Vancouver Police Department data

The Vancouver Police Department component of the BC alcohol and other drug monitoring project was a one-time study that aimed to shed light on the number of incidents police respond to in which alcohol and other drugs are a factor. Police data can be an important indicator of the impact of substance use on communities as well as on service provision by law enforcement agencies.

Background

In assessing the extent to which alcohol or other drugs are related to criminal activity, researchers often rely upon official data such as charge rates and convictions for substance-related offences. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that a large proportion of police incidents, that may not result in charges, are due either directly (e.g., driving under the influence) or indirectly (e.g., a methamphetamine- or alcohol-fuelled assault) to the influence of substances.

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) project goals were to shed light on the types and quantities of drugs on the streets in Vancouver as well as to collect information on the number of incidents police respond to in which alcohol or other drugs are a factor. Collecting information at the time of police incidents, directly from the police officers themselves, allows for a better understanding of the extent to which police are routinely facing substance-related incidents in their daily duties.

Vancouver policing areas

The VPD is organized into four main districts, plus the downtown core. Each of the four Districts is composed of five teams (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo) which correspond to overlapping 11 hour shifts with the exception of the Delta shift which is 12 hours in duration, with all of the teams working on a four days on/four days off rotation. In addition, there is a specialized team of officers that work exclusively in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) called the Beat Enforcement Team (BET). This consists of four teams each with 12 members. 

Data collection was carried out in August and November of 2009 and in the winter of 2010. Indicators included in the substance tracking card included basic demographic variables (gender, age, ethnicity), location of the incident, time of the incident, whether the subject had ingested substances recently and/or appeared under the influence, the reason for contact with the police, the level of violence presented, the nature and extent of substance(s) found on the person, the purpose of the substance(s), and the response to both the substance(s) and the subject.

This data provides much needed information regarding the extent to which alcohol or other drugs are commonly involved in police-related incidents. This information also provides empirical evidence upon which VPD can shape their training and response policies. With relatively few variations, this methodology should also prove to be easily replicable in other jurisdictions both within and outside of Canada.

Demographics

Of the 936 substance-related contacts, approximately three-quarters (74 per cent) involved males, and over three-quarters (78 per cent) involved an individual whose primary residence was the City of Vancouver. The average age of the contacts was 33 years old with a range of 14 years old to 79 years old; the most common age was 25. Less than 5% of the data involved contact with a minor. Generally speaking then, substance-related contacts involved local adult males who lived in Vancouver. Unfortunately, given that the data was anonymous, the number of repeat contacts with the same individual could not be determined.

Methodology

Over a period of many months, and with the contributions and insight of VPD, several revisions to the methodology and the data collection instruments were undertaken. In addition, data collection took place during four different calendar periods. To avoid putting disproportionate responsibilities on only a few officers selected through sampling, all officers working during the eight-day data collection period were asked to participate in data collection. Each officer was provided 15 data collection cards in each of four envelopes to be collected during each of their four shifts. Substance related information consisted of: whether the person of interest was suspected or confirmed to be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs; and, specifically what substance(s) were present. In addition, reasons for the police contact were recorded using the most common responses recorded on the PRIME system as a guideline.

As well as the type of substance and the reason for contact, the VPD was interested in the presence and degree of violence officers experienced during their contacts with the public. The degree of violence was measured as low, moderate, or high corresponding to the categories of simple or level one assault, assault causing bodily harm or level two assault, and level three aggravated assault, a coding system familiar to the police.

Given the essential need to avoid a bulky card that would interfere with officer’s ability to both access and complete the card quickly, the card was restricted to four information sections: substance contact demographics (district, time, and date); person of interest demographics (gender, age, residential community); contact information (reason for contact, presence of violence); and substance-related information (alcohol or specific type of drug). The back of the card was left blank to allow the recording of additional commentary.

Prior to data collection, this project received approval from the VPD and research ethics approval from the University of the Fraser Valley’s Research Ethics Board. The data was collected during a pre-test period followed by three periods of data collection (identified as Times 1 through 3). While the eight-day data collection period in the first two actual phases of the project deliberately avoided Welfare Wednesday to avoid potentially skewing the data, Time 3 specifically occurred over this period. The latter period facilitated an empirical assessment of the hypothesized relationship between Welfare Wednesday and both the distinctive types and general quantities of substance-related police contacts.

Team

    • Amanda McCormick
    • Ray Corrado
    • Irwin Cohen
    • Scott Thompson

Related publication

Policing persons under the influence of drugs and alcohol in Vancouver, British Columbia (PDF 1.4mb)