Cars were overturned and then torched during the June 15 Vancouver riot after the Canucks' Game 7 defeat in the Stanley Cup final.

VPD riot review points to lack of regional policing

Reports add fresh ammunition for single force: criminologist

A regional police force would have better handled the Stanley Cup riot, according to the Vancouver Police Department’s review of the incident.

The VPD review largely echoes a provincial report in concluding the Vancouver force had no advance warning a riot was imminent and that no plausible number of deployed officers could have prevented it.

But it also calls the playoffs a regional event that would have benefited from a regional police force in charge of all 3,800 police officers.

“A regional policing service model would have provided a more efficient and effective delivery of policing services,” the report says.

“If all Metro Vancouver police agencies were under the direction of a regional police service, consistency across training as well as equipment deployment would have been improved.”

The VPD said ending the current patchwork quilt of municipal and RCMP forces would improve communication, standardize policy and practices, improve resource use, boost investigative and patrol capacities, reduce service duplication and end competition between forces for recruits and other skilled personnel.

At a minimum, the report said, a regional operational plan should have been drawn up to appropriately allocate officers from Metro Vancouver forces for the playoffs.

The VPD suggested such a plan at a June 2 group of regional chiefs but says it was not implemented.

“While there was excellent cooperation from police leaders in the region, they understandably were focused on their own municipalities,” the report said. “There was no one leader/agency that could make decisions for the region.”

It says the lack of common standards and procedures across forces are a deficiency not just in riot control but in responding to anything from natural disasters to terrorist attacks.

There was no specific recommendation on police regionalization in the report.

Municipal forces police Vancouver, West Vancouver, Port Moody, New Westminster, Delta and Abbotsford, while all other municipalities in the region are served by RCMP detachments.

The report shows a total of 928 officers from various forces around the Lower Mainland responded to the June 15 riot, including 606 VPD officers.

In contrast, the provincial review co-chaired by former Olympic boss John Furlong rejected calls for a regional police force.

“We think a regional force would have done just about the same thing as was done collaboratively,” the provincial report said.

“A single regional police service may be the ultimate answer to many problems,” it said, but warned a contentious debate over that idea could derail other needed reforms, notably better collaboration and joint training between police and the development of a regional event public safety plan.

Rob Gordon, director of criminology at SFU, said “political intervention” may have kept the province’s review from more explicitly recommending police force regionalization, which he called the “core issue” highlighted by the riot.

“It was a case of dysfunctional management by committee,” Gordon said of the riot. “The solution is not to continue with a parochial policing system but to tackle head-on the bigger issue.”

He noted both reports underscored problems with the current model.

A longtime advocate of regionalization, Gordon said a regional force would have to be built “from scratch” – not by using the VPD as a starting point.

Cities outside Vancouver have fought the idea, fearing they’d lose control of neighbourhood policing and face bigger bills, while arguing the current system of integrated regional policing teams works well.

The VPD report also repeats longstanding complaints of Vancouver politicians – that their taxpayers are stuck paying big bills to police non-Vancouver residents who flood in from the suburbs for major public events.

The VPD report found no one cause of the riot, but said widespread public drinking was a key problem.

Revelers who were surprised by early liquor store closures at previous Cup games were ready for Game 7, buying booze in advance or bringing it in from outlying areas.

The report calls for tougher liquor enforcement, stiffer fines and better interception of alcohol being transported downtown – possibly with airport-style bag checks at SkyTrain stations.

It says that must be a regional strategy because too many rioters were drunk before they got downtown or had brought booze with them.

It’s a bad idea, the report said, to host large open public events that pack a small area with huge crowds – particularly young sports fans with potential to drink and act like “hooligans.”

TransLink must also restrict the volume of people coming downtown via public transit when a major event is near capacity, it said.

TransLink halted trains to downtown from 8:45 p.m. on June 15 until past midnight.