A screenshot of a spreadsheet with different types of data.

VicPD drug seizure and arrest data

Last year I filed several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests with VicPD. Two of those FOIs were modeled directly off of work folks had already done in Vancouver, FOI’ing drug possession arrests and drug seizure statistics. Just like Vancouver PD, VicPD was not publicly disclosing this data either, and it seemed like a good idea to get it out in the open.

VicPD recorded at least 5,121 drug seizures between April 14, 2019 and November 4, 2021. There are often multiple seizures associated with a single police report. For example, one 2019 police report included two apparent seizures of heroin, listed as 0.22 grams and 0.02 grams, respectively. Note that the information on the substances is based on officers’ impressions.

Karen Ward wrote about Vancouver PD’s drug seizures here, writing the seizures are:

the opposite of harm reduction. there are consequences when one’s assets are seized in an illicit survival economy. if it was yours, you have to replace what the cops took and you never forget what you had to do. it’s your damn medicine. if you were working and that was inventory oh shit. replace it with something cheaper. who knows what anything is really.

And that is how police practices accelerated the contamination of the supply. That is how they made it worse. Not only is it impossible to ‘get the bad drugs off the street,’ it is harmful to try. And they will say that no charges were laid, and that doesnt fucking matter at all.

— Karen Ward, “Now Who’s Decriminalized”

It is unconscionable that VicPD continues to issue press releases about drug seizures when those seizures put people’s lives in danger.  

VicPD sent its drug seizure data back as an unusable 228-page PDF. I converted it to an Excel spreadsheet, cleaned up the data, and added some filters if anyone wants to dig into the infinite ways VicPD’s drug seizures are harmful. Each seizure entry includes what VicPD thought they were taking, and most entries also include a quantity. A few include dollar figures under a heading called “value.”

Screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet created using VicPD’s drug seizure data, with a pivot table and filters. You can download this spreadsheet at the end of the post.

Some folks may be tempted to compare this data against the upcoming 2.5 gram “personal possession” exemption, to see how many seizures might have been eliminated. Given the different quantities in the data (grams, pills, bags, etc.), it is not possible to do so. But we don’t need data to know that folks have said from the start if there’s going to be a threshold, 2.5 grams is far too low. At the behest of the police, who target drug users to make seizures and arrests, that figure was reduced from an already out-of-touch proposal of 4.5 grams. More to the point, capping the possibly-poisoned drugs someone can carry, instead of ensuring everyone has access to safe supply, is not what meaningful harm reduction looks like.

The second FOI shows VicPD made over 1,100 drug possession arrests between 2017 and 2021. VicPD’s arrest information includes VicPD’s data on the person’s age, ethnicity, and the role they assigned to the person (e.g. “suspect”).

Table showing there were 1,139 VicPD possession arrests between 2017 and 2021. VicPD arrested 388 people for possession in 2017 and 117 in 2021. On average, people VicPD arrested for possession were 36.5 years-old.

Total possession arrests may have fallen between 2017 and 2021, but criminalization of certain substances shows no signs of stopping in Victoria and Esquimalt.

I’m happy to try to answer any questions about the data sets if I can. Note that VicPD’s original data is available in the spreadsheets as well.

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