The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) was heavily criticized by media and residents for it's perceived inaction after the Stanley Cup hockey riot. A major complaint was that no one had been charged.
Fast forward to October 2012 when the IACP recognized the VPD's efforts in investigating the riot with awards for excellence in forensic science and criminal investigation.
"The IACP congratulates the Vancouver Police Department," said president Walter McNeil. "This investigation is a prime example of the incredible outcome that can occur when law enforcement and private citizens come together to promote public safety and the pursuit of justice."
"They showed great ingenuity by deploying numerous strategies to mobilize public assistance in their pursuit of justice," added Andy Russell of award sponsor Thomson Reuters.
VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu felt vindicated by the acclaim after the severe press and public criticism for failing to quickly bring the rioters to justice. "The important thing wasn't to rush things," he noted at a press conference. "That would create legal loopholes that accused rioters could use to evade sentences and sanctions for their crime."
Some 150,000 people took to the streets of downtown Vancouver June 15, 2011 after the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in game seven of the Stanley Cup final. It didn't take long for things to turn ugly. Rioters looted businesses, destroyed property, started fires and assaulted anyone who got in their way.
Hundreds of people engaged in criminal acts while thousands more formed bands of encouraging spectators, many recording the carnage on their hand held electronic devices. A far greater audience watched the chaos on various media.
In a statement before the game the VPD warned that "we want everyone to celebrate safely, but make no mistake – if you come downtown intending to make trouble, we will be waiting for you."
With regional resources, including 928 police officers, it took more than three hours to quell the riot and return order to the city. Help came from the RCMP and every municipality in the Lower Mainland. Officers that had just finished a shift left their homes to join colleagues on the streets. Ambulance and fire services also helped restore sanity.
Nine officers were injured, one requiring 14 stitches to close a head wound suffered when someone threw a brick while he was trying to stop the looters. Another officer received a concussion and others were bitten.
Police reported making almost 100 arrests the night of the riot and had 120 notes on a tip line by 5 am. Members of the public provided many videos to supplement video shot by police.
Rioters caused millions of dollars in losses, damaging or destroying 112 businesses and 122 vehicles, including two police cars, tarnishing Vancouver's reputation around the world and depriving citizens of a sense of pride and security in their community.
"Vancouver is a world-class city and it is embarrassing and shameful to see the type of violence and disorder we've seen tonight," said Mayor Gregor Robertson in a news conference.
Social media played a significant role in the riot. Twitter and Facebook gave the crowd up-to-the-minute details, including where police were being deployed. After the destructive event social media became the forum for discussion and videos from the riot. Participants bragged about their actions while others used it to research and identify persons involved.
This resulted in the largest Canadian criminal investigation of its type and moved Vancouver onto the international stage.
On the morning of June 16, while gutted cars were being towed and broken glass swept up, the VPD declared that it owed it to the victims and residents of Vancouver to bring the rioters to justice.
Investigators were faced with the difficulty of capturing evidence before it was removed, collecting and processing a vast quantity of video evidence that needed to be collected and processed, the sheer volume of rioters involved and the immense public and media pressure.
A 70 member Integrated Riot Investigation Team (IRIT) from the RCMP, New Westminster, Abbotsford, West Vancouver, Port Moody, Transit, Delta, Calgary and Victoria was formed. It was faced with non-traditional investigative challenges never experienced before on this scale. In effect a mid-size police department was created from the ground up, complete with vehicles, office space, computers and staffing resources. It was committed to achieving the strongest sentences against those who committed crimes against Vancouver.
The next steps were daunting. In addition to the huge amount of evidence that had to be tagged and tracked, IRIT members from eight different police agencies had to be trained and assigned to the various tasks. Disclosure packages needed to be prepared for Crown counsel to optimize successful prosecutions.
A request for information attracted 4,464 e-mail tips in the first seven days alone. More than 5,000 hours of video in 100 different formats was seized from the public, closed-circuit television and the media. It would have taken the VPD lab almost two years to process this video.
Many criminal events needed to be investigated. Some had more than 300 suspects and many were involved in multiple events. In one instance, more than 300 looters were captured on video running into one department store alone.
The VPD decided to approach the only video lab capable of forensically processing this massive amount of video evidence to a standard acceptable by the courts. On September 24 IRIT members took the mass of evidence to Indianapolis for two weeks of concentrated work.
The Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association (LEVA) lab at the University of Indianapolis joined together for the first deployment of the emergency response team. This lab was purposefully designed for large scale criminal investigations of this type. International forensic video analysts were called upon to work on the investigation. Using standardized operating procedures and best practices, the video evidence was converted into one format, ensuring investigative integrity. Video was then reviewed to "tag" events and suspects, using multiple unique but standardized searchable criteria to provide individualization.
Over 30 terabytes of data was processed (equivalent to 7,500 DVDs or 45,000 CDs). Fifty forensic analysts from more than 40 North American and UK law enforcement agencies worked on the project. More than 4,000 analyst hours were spent in the lab, working around the clock to tag some 15,000 criminal acts and suspected rioters. Many were the same individual tagged from different camera angles. After the process investigators could search for suspects in a process similar to using an Internet search engine.
While IRIT members were at the LEVA Lab, the VPD renewed its lab by adding five new Avid work stations and upgrading three more. Using the LEVA data, investigators could search for a suspect who committed multiple offences at different locations and locate video clips and photographs to be used for interviews, disclosure and web site outreach.
A database was developed, primarily as a research tool for investigators but also to automatically generate statistical reports for media releases, management decisions and workload allocation. It also enabled staff to manage the many tasks, track rioters and create investigative reports.
All tasks were reviewed on a daily basis for thoroughness and accuracy and either approved or returned for further follow up when necessary. Multiple quality control steps had to be incorporated into the task review process to ensure that all regulations and procedures were strictly adhered to. Created by the VPD specifically for the file, they helped avoid unnecessary or redundant communication between the management team and investigators. Given the large size of IRIT, both in terms of resources and evidence, effective time management and communication ensured smooth day to day operations and an effective overall investigation.
The investigative team overcame huge obstacles, including getting new members quickly up to speed, processing 625 separate exhibits as evidence and identifying and interviewing the large number of victims, suspects and witnesses.
Identifying the rioters
Thirty males and seven females had turned themselves in by July. A water polo star apologized publicly after a photo appeared on the Internet showing him holding a burning shirt in front of an uncapped car gas tank.
"I was caught up in the moment," he said, choking back tears with parents at his side. "I want to own up to what I did and encourage others to do the same. I'm just ashamed."
The VPD needed public assistance to identify other culprits. Pictures of suspects from the file were displayed on the IRIT web site and strategic news releases helped rekindle public interest.
Chu hosted a live video web cast, answering questions about the riot via Twitter and from a live studio audience to engage and encourage the public to assist in identifying rioters pictured on the web site. Through Facebook connections were made with up to 160,000 users in the region in the 15–25 age group, the demographic of many rioters.
Many pictures were printed in the Vancouver Sun and Province with an invitation for the public to assist.
In a unique approach, the IRIT printed a color fold out photo gallery entitled Riot Round-UP featuring 200 pictures of unidentified rioters. Some 100,000 posters were handed out over two days in 19 cities and 75 locations across the region by, among others, 400 volunteers and 75 police officers. The poster was a tremendous success; tips flooded in, resulting in leads on more than 50 per cent of the featured rioters.
The success prompted a second poster with 104 photos, which was distributed in 12 hours by 150 volunteers and 50 IRIT members across 34 locations in the Lower Mainland including universities, colleges, high schools, malls and transit hubs. It garnered 93 tips on 48 targets. The Vancouver Police Foundation paid the $6,700 printing cost.
To date, 315 rioters have been recommended to BC Crown Council for charges (184 charged). There have been 1,045 separate charges (551 approved), 2,284 web tips, 1.9 million web visits and 13 million images viewed by IRIT.
Chu thanked VPD officers, other local police agencies and first responders and the general public for their efforts during the riot. The outpouring of appreciation the VPD received was amazing. Many cards, letters and e-mails were displayed in the media room but he could not show the many hugs of thanks officers received. Even the police dogs were not left out – several bags of dog food arrived for them.
The IRIT task force has since been decreased to a few members and the third floor of the new VPD building, which was used for the investigations, is almost deserted. The search goes on to lay charges for the approximately 200 unidentified faces still listed on the IRIT web site.