‘Olympic effort’ is an over-worked cliche that seldom reflects the true nature of an endeavour, but no phrase is more apt to describe policing the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The Integrated Security Unit (ISU) swelled to some 10,000 police and military members, with an operating budget of about $900 million. Some 120 police agencies and military units from across Canada flowed into Vancouver to ensure the safety of athletes and the public.
RCMP members from detachments across the country made up the bulk of the police presence, along with officers from Montréal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Newfoundland, Charlottetown and many other agencies, including just about every municipal force in British Columbia.
Thousands of officers were housed in three cruise ships docked in the city’s harbour. ISU members were responsible for protecting the athletes, VIPs and attendees within the sporting venues and taking care of security issues surrounding the games.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) was responsible for policing the “urban domain,” which proved to be a daunting challenge that stretched the resources of every sworn and civilian member.
Imagine that the Super Bowl is being held in your city and your force must keep everyone safe. Then imagine the equivalent of three Super Bowls every day and you get an idea of the crowds in downtown Vancouver.
An average 200,000 people a day partied from morning until late into the night on all the main downtown streets. The vast majority were good natured, cheerful and cheering in a display of patriotic fervour seldom seen in our country. On occasion spontaneous street hockey games would break out in the middle of a crowd chanting “Go Canada Go.” At “centre ice,” a Vancouver Police officer dropped the puck – but there were also challenges that tested the restraint and professionalism of officers.
While the world marvelled at the spectacle of the opening ceremonies, outside the arena a crowd of about 2,000 protestors surged towards the stadium. A thin blue line of 100 VPD officers, backed by a contingent of RCMP, stood face to face with the protestors.
It would prove to be a defining moment in the history of the Vancouver games. For hours the members stood their ground, their arms interlocked as protestors spit on them, threw sticks and other missiles and attempted to goad officers into a violent reaction. The resolve of the members never wavered. In the face of relentless provocation they refused to budge or over react.
Observers marvelled at their restraint and dedication, which drew praise from every circle – even from among the protestors themselves.
Shena Meadowcroft, a 53-year-old Gabriola Island writer and artist, went to Vancouver to protest homelessness and Olympics-related violations of civil rights. She joined the protest crowd and found herself pinned against the police line as agitators in the group surged forward.
“I wish that I could personally thank each and every one of the police officers who showed the utmost concern to my well-being that night,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“Your officers were continuously insulted and spat upon, screamed at. At no time did I see any of them respond with anything but civility and politeness. What I can say is that no one deserves the continual berating and harassment, obscenities and personal attacks that these men were subject to that night.
“When I read about or watched the “violent police arrests” the following day I shake my head at the stupidity of the reporters who haven’t a clue about what really goes on out there. Personally, if I am at another protest or rally that these little shits attend I will be ripping off their balaclavas and exposing them myself and doing whatever I can to stop their violence.
“To all the officers who were on the left hand corner of the protest facing BC Place: I don’t know who you are, but you do. Thank you is simply not enough to show you my gratitude, respect and above all, admiration. May you all remain safe in these times. I have never been surrounded by so many ladies and gentlemen in my life.”
The next day the protestors who failed to achieve the reaction they wanted from police stepped up the violence by smashing windows, vandalizing vehicles and intimidating anyone who objected.
Chief Constable Jim Chu told the international media that while the VPD respected everyone’s right to protest, that did not include the right to commit crimes. He identified a criminal element within the protest groups and promised that there would be arrests. Seven were arrested that day and three more in the following days, including the ring leader.
As subsequent protests remained peaceful the VPD focus shifted to the safety of the hundreds of thousands of revellers. Public drunkenness threatened that safety. Liquor pours were in the thousands.
The VPD took the unprecedented step of asking for an early closure of downtown liquor stores on some evenings. This made an immediate and dramatic difference in the public consumption of liquor. One hundred additional police offers were deployed in the downtown perimeter to intercept drunks and illegally possessed liquor before they reached the celebration zones.
The first night’s extra policing complement was bolstered by officers from nearby police agencies and RCMP detachments. On subsequent nights they were assisted by re-deployed ISU resources. These measures contributed to the maintenance of a fun and happy environment for all.
Vancouver 2010 will be remembered not for violent clashes with police but for the images of hundreds of thousands of happy, cheering people taking part in one of the greatest shows of Canadian patriotism this country has ever seen.
The VPD thanks all peace officers for their dedication and resourcefulness under trying circumstances. You have shown the world what Canadian hospitality and professionalism is all about.