Pivot Legal Society has released a long-awaited and damning report on private security in Vancouver.
Titled Security Before Justice: A Study of the Impacts of Private Security on Homelessness and Under-housed Vancouver Residents, the report begins by noting that in Vancouver, the growth of the private security industry has vastly outstripped that of public police forces. According to the report, the number of private security guards in the city grew by 300 percent between 1991 and 2005.
“There are now at least twice as many private police as public police,” the report claims.
A number of “central issues” related to the growth of the private security industry are identified early in the report.
Pivot’s study claims that homeless and under-housed people are unusually likely to have frequent and relatively problematic interactions with security guards.
The report found that private security guards “routinely overstep the bounds of their authority on public property” and that “profiling” on behalf of security guards results in the harassment of homeless and visibly poor people. Aboriginal people, the mentally ill, and drug addicts are allegedly especially affected.
“Private security guards use force illegally,” the report also stated. “Both survey respondents and focus group participants claimed that guards are using force and threats of violence against homeless and other marginalized people on a routine basis.”
Pivot’s study is based on survey information collected from 154 Downtown Eastside residents and two follow-up focus groups.
Many statistics in the report taken from those surveys point to allegedly widespread problems.
The report states that roughly 50 percent of respondents’ interactions with private security guards are happening on city streets. Street are public spaces where private security guards have no more authority than the citizens they are interacting with.
The study also found that 59 percent of the homeless people surveyed said they had been asked to leave a public space and that 51 percent of homeless participants in the study have four or more encounters with security guards a month.
The report states: “This study focuses on the experiences of those most on the margins of society, but it raises issues that should alarm anyone committed to democratic policing, accountable governance and respect for human rights.”
Included in the report are several recommendations for how the City of Vancouver could reverse negative trends in private policing.
In the report, Pivot Legal Society recommends that there be a moratorium on the moving of homeless people from public spaces; that public funding for private policing cease until certain issues are addressed; and that a “strong system of accountability” for private security be implemented.
In December 2007, the City of Vancouver approved $872,000 be spent to expand the Downtown Ambassadors program, which is operated by Genesis Security and sees private security guards patrol many areas of Downtown Vancouver.
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