No comparison between Vancouver, London riots, say Vancouver police

Tamsyn Burgmann
September 13, 2011
By Tamsyn Burgmann
Aug 17 2011 VANCOUVER - With smoke charring the skies, smashed storefronts and young testosterone-fuelled men running amok, the look and feel of neighbourhoods throughout Britain earlier this month were eerily reminiscent of the Stanley Cup riot Vancouver.

Aug 17 2011

VANCOUVER - With smoke charring the skies, smashed storefronts and young testosterone-fuelled men running amok, the look and feel of neighbourhoods throughout Britain earlier this month were eerily reminiscent of the Stanley Cup riot Vancouver.

But atmospheric details that shamed cities continents apart is where the similarity ends, says the Vancouver Police Force in bucking criticism that it hasn't acted fast enough to punish troublemakers while the United Kingdom has already sent lawbreakers to jail.

Charges have yet to be laid two months after havoc rocked Vancouver's downtown core when the Canucks lost the hockey final. In contrast, London police have charged 1,000 suspects since the ruckus began on Aug. 6.

"(While) both countries are plagued with the stigma of hosting a riot, they are simply not comparable,'' Staff Sgt. Lee Patterson told reporters Wednesday, laying out a series of differences to illustrate.

The Vancouver riot was small compared to the deviance that began in London and spread.

The West Coast skirmish broke out spontaneously for several hours within a pre-planned gathering of sports spectators, while a social injustice march in a high-tension area of London sparked nights of violence that moved to several distinct communities.

Both involved young participants, but many in Vancouver were from "financially stable backgrounds,'' said Patterson, a 19-year veteran who was deployed during the Vancouver brawl and who has also policed numerous riots in England before moving to Canada.

A lengthy history of public disorder, from soccer hooliganism to miner strikes and race riots, has evolved the U.K. justice system to allow expedient court processing. Police are unarmed and must rely on legislation to restore order, so they have different powers to enter homes and different rules for evidence gathering.

An expansive web of police officers and detectives numbering many times those on the ground in Vancouver made netting suspects there swift, he said. Cities were in close proximity so that reinforcements could be brought in with little difficulty.

Some 16,000 officers snaked through London while one Vancouver-area police chief has said 800 police officers were out by the end of the B.C. melee.

And a network of closed circuit cameras in the London area meant police could watch the disorder in real time and direct officers to quell behaviour immediately, as well as identify suspects with ease. Such a tool is rare and controversial in Canada.

"They didn't have to pick out faces and prove continuity of movement among 100,000 people,'' Patterson said.

That's why it's still likely to take "months'' before Vancouver investigators completely sort through the mountains of evidence to be in a position to make arrests, explained Vancouver Chief Jim Chu.

When they do, hundreds of people are expected to be charged, he said. Police have so far identified 268 suspects.

"If you participated in the riot, you should not have a false sense of security because this is taking so long.''

Investigators are scouring 1,600 hours of video of the chaos. The force is spending $160,000 to use a high-tech police lab in Indianapolis for analysis, meaning the process will take weeks instead of two years. It's expected to bring in cost-savings in the long-run.

Even laying charges against 41 people who turned themselves in has proven difficult. In some cases, youths were brought in by their parents, but police can't find evidence to support charges against them.

In others, officers have discovered that people who confessed to minor acts were actually involved in more serious crimes.

"If you are in favour of speed, you are in favour of more acquittals and lighter sentences,'' Chu said.

Four Crown prosecutors have been working with Vancouver police in preparation for the slew of recommendations for charges, but more could be brought onboard if necessary, said spokesman Neil McKenzie.

Eight charges, for offences like mischief and break and enter, were forwarded only days after the riot but prosecutors sent them back for more information. Two suspects in a stabbing case that happened during the riot have stood before the court.

McKenzie said it's not possible to predict if it will take an hour or a day for the team to review each file once in hand from police before approving each charge.

"It is clear the process the police are undertaking right now ... is aimed at providing reports to Crown that we will be able to review effectively and efficiently,'' he said.

"The degree of preparation that's going on now with the police will enable us to deal with the files more quickly once we receive them.'' Aug 17 2011 VANCOUVER - Vancouver's police chief launched an aggressive defence of his force's handling of the Stanley Cup riots, saying anyone who compares the lack of charges so far from that skirmish with the charges and convictions already mounting in London is misinformed.

Vancouver police say they have identified hundreds of people involved in the riots on June 15, and are scouring through more than a thousand hours of video to determine charges against others.

But two months after the riot, no charges have been laid.

Meanwhile, London police charged their 1000th suspect Wednesday in the violence that gripped the United Kingdom starting Aug. 6.

But Chu said Vancouver police must take their time and get it right.

"If you are in favour of speed, you are in favour of more acquittals and lighter sentences,'' Chu said.

After Chu's brief remarks, Staff Sgt. Lee Patterson bluntly told the news conference the only similarity between the two events is that both countries "are plagued by the stigma of hosting a riot.''

Patterson spent 19 years in policing, a chunk of it in Britain, including being part of the police team investigating English riots in the past.

"People continue to discuss the riots like they are similar. They weren't for many reasons,'' Patterson said, his British accent still thick.

The Vancouver riot was small compared to the riots that began in London and spread.

In the West Coast city people from a vast area were drawn into the downtown core, whereas in London, the rioting was contained in local communities and was conducted by people living within those communities.

As well, police in England have vastly different powers than those of the Vancouver force.

"Trying to do this like-for-like comparison of the judicial process and subsequent investigation will invoke a lot of conversation, for sure,'' Patterson said.

"But let's just consider a few things.''

He noted the United Kingdom has different legislation to work from, the result of a history of rioting over taxes, race issues and soccer games.

While police in England remain unarmed, they have different powers of entering houses, have different rules for evidence gathering and many London neighbourhoods are watched over by closed circuit television cameras - a tool which is rare and controversial in Canada.

Patterson also noted the London police pushed 16,000 officers onto its streets over the days of the rioting.

Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford has said that more than 800 officers were deployed by the end of the night to control the crowd of at least 100,000 people who showed up in Vancouver's downtown core. Chu hasn't released the exact numbers for operational reasons.

Chu said police have now identified 268 suspects.

He said 41 people have turned themselves in, but even laying charges against those people have been difficult. For example, he said some of those have been brought in by their parents, but police can't find evidence to support charges against them.

Chu also said police are examining 1,600 hours of video of the riots.

Ordinarily, that would take the Vancouver force two years to sort through, but he said Vancouver investigators are taking the video to a high-tech police lab in Indianapolis for analysis, meaning the process could instead take mere weeks.

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