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Mike Howell: Why a Vancouver police senior staffer was put in handcuffs, placed in a prisoner van

Drazen Manojlovic agreed to be detained in police wagon in response to protester’s challenge
The Vancouver jail on East Cordova Street received 11,466 detainees last year, with more than 10,000 arriving by police wagon. One of those people recently filed a complaint against police.

Why don’t you get handcuffed and go for a ride in a police wagon and tell me whether it’s inhumane, or not?

That, essentially, was the challenge that a woman made recently to Drazen Manojlovic, the director of the Vancouver Police Department’s planning, research and audit section.

The woman, whose name was not disclosed in a police report I reviewed, was arrested Sept. 13, 2021 after participating in a protest in the 600-block of West Broadway.

The report didn’t reveal the nature of the protest, although about 40 people gathered that day outside B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman’s office to call for a stop to the logging of old-growth trees in the province.

The woman complained to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner’s office. A redacted version of the complaint was included in this week’s Vancouver Police Board agenda and discussed by the board’s service and policy complaint review committee.

She argued that transporting her in a police wagon was “inhumane and unsafe,” particularly with her hands positioned behind her back in handcuffs, noting it was impossible to brace for any impact or fall.

Seatbelts are not required in the wagons.

The woman told police she was claustrophobic and said there should be an alternate method of transportation. She was upset a person could be transported in such a way without being charged or convicted of a crime.

Drazen Manojlovic is the director of the Vancouver police's planning, research and audit section. Screenshot/livestream

It’s not in her complaint, or the accompanying police report, but the woman challenged Manojlovic to take a ride in a wagon.

And guess what? He did.

Manojlovic told the police board Thursday that he arranged to be handcuffed behind his back and placed in the same compartment of the wagon that the woman rode in back in September.

The driver of the wagon drove around the city for 12 minutes — the same amount of time the woman was in the wagon during her trip to the jail on East Cordova Street — before parking.

Manojlovic remained in the wagon for another 12 minutes to simulate some of the time the woman spent waiting to be released.

“Obviously, my experience wasn’t the same unpleasant experience that she had — it doesn’t negate her experience — but I felt it important to credibly speak to the complainant’s complaint and that someone at the VPD go through it,” he said.

Unfortunately, he stopped his story at that point and didn’t provide an assessment of his experience; I would have asked him about it had COVID-19 restrictions not prohibited me from attending the board meeting at the police department.

Vancouver jail received 11,466 'detainees' in 2021

On the day of the woman’s arrest, the police report said officers from the department’s public safety unit broadcast three scripted announcements at five-minute intervals on a loudhailer, directing protesters to clear the roadway.

Officers also approached protesters on foot and told them to leave the area.

In the end, the woman and another unidentified person were arrested and placed in separate compartments of the police wagon and transported to jail. They never actually set foot in a jail cell and were released and given court dates to respond to charges.

“When the complainant insisted on being arrested, they were offered the largest compartment in the wagon, and advised it was the largest compartment,” the report said.

“This compartment could fit potentially three to four adults, and may be used for single-person transport when conditions permit. In this case, the complainant was the only occupant of the large compartment for the entire trip.”

The report noted that while the doors to the largest compartment were open in front of the complainant, officers asked her five times if she wished to leave, but she refused.

From arrest to release, the woman spent about 40 minutes in the wagon.

The report pointed out the Vancouver jail received 11,466 "detainees" last year, with more than 10,000 arriving by wagon. The average number of detainees lodged at the jail in the last two years was 955 per month.

In the last 10 years, two detainees of a “conservatively estimated 103,000 wagon transports” suffered injuries in relation to collisions. Both received minor injuries, were transported to hospital for treatment and subsequently released back to police custody.

The VPD’s conclusion to the complaint: “The VPD acknowledges the complainant’s perspective on the use of wagons to transport detainees. The VPD also appreciates the complainant’s experience that they found the wagon frightening and inhumane, particularly as they are claustrophobic. A review of this situation and the general experience of detainees suggest this is a rare impression and that in this case officers took extensive measures to provide the complainant with alternatives and support. The use of wagons provides a safe, efficient, and appropriate method of transporting detainees in Vancouver.”

The police board committee’s decision: They concluded the review of the complaint, with no further action recommended.

The woman’s response, which Manojlovic shared with the board: “The committee should be aware that the complainant will not be agreeable with these findings.”

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