Investigating Vancouver Police Department's deadly use of force

In collaboration with Troy Brynelson of Oregon Public Broadcasting, I investigated Vancouver Police Department's relatively high number of deadly shootings.

Thu 04 February 2021 ~ Brandon Roberts
William Abbe

Family photos of William Abbe. Once a music-loving kid who struggled in school, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his adult years. Abbe was the first person shot and killed by Vancouver Police in 2020.

In 2020, Troy Brynelson and I began looking into Vancouver Police Department's use of deadly force incidents. The department didn't maintain detailed statistics about such incidents. Nor did they track the citizens who were killed. So, we requested case files for all shootings since 2011 and built a database ourselves. We paid close attention to demographic information and whether or not the person had been unhoused or previously experienced behavioral health issues.

OPB’s analysis reviewed thousands of pages of investigative records and interviewed family members to detail how many people injured or killed by Vancouver police officers either had a diagnosed illness or — prior to any police involvement — showed signs of extreme mental distress.

Five out of the nine counted were white, two were Latino, one was Chuukese and one was identified by family as white, Black and Native American.

Police shootings were three times more deadly when involving a person in crisis, OPB’s analysis shows. Of the nine with behavioral health problems, six died by police gunfire, one died by suicide and two survived. Of the other nine, seven survived.

Of the 18 people shot at, seven were known to have experienced homelessness recently. OPB was unable to verify the mental health history for three people who had recently experienced homelessness.

You can read the story here: "Analysis shows most shot by Vancouver police had unaddressed mental health needs". The ACLU and NAACP later called for a federal civil-rights probe into discriminatory policing by VPD and Clark County, citing the results of this investigation.