Riot crowd gathered early, report says

Fewer than 500 police officers found themselves dealing with a crowd of 155,000 hockey fans and troublemakers much more quickly than they expected, a review of the Stanley Cup riot has found.

A rioter prepares to torch a car in one of the photos posted by the Vancouver Police at www.riot2011.vpd.ca

Fewer than 500 police officers found themselves dealing with a crowd of 155,000 hockey fans and troublemakers much more quickly than they expected, a review of the Stanley Cup riot has found.

Police started out with 446 officers on the streets of downtown Vancouver the night of June 15, and had 928 on duty by the time the situation was brought under control, said a report issued Thursday by two reviewers appointed by the B.C. government.

Unlike the 1994 riot, police from different cities were able to communicate, but due to a lack of practice working together, there was still confusion, the report said. Another difference from 1994 was the expansion of the SkyTrain service in the region, which rapidly delivered many more people to the downtown core.

The police “meet and greet” technique that was effective during similar downtown gatherings at the Olympics in February could not function because of the size and early arrival of the crowd, said Doug Keefe, the former Nova Scotia deputy minister who conducted the review along with former Vancouver Olympic CEO John Furlong.

The report makes 53 recommendations to prevent or contain future incidents, including having the RCMP and Vancouver Police tactical squads train together. Police and fire services across the region should have a clear framework for covering major regional events.

Only two charges were laid as of this week against rioters. Vancouver Police launched a website Tuesday with pictures to help the public identify offenders caught by the many cameras that were used the night of the riot. VPD Chief Jim Chu said he wants a full review of the pictures, 1,600 hours of video and other evidence so people who committed major offences don’t get off with lesser punishment.

Premier Christy Clark said she is as frustrated as anyone that more charges haven’t been laid, but police are trying to be as thorough as possible.

“It was those drunken louts who caused this problem,” Clark said. “It wasn’t police, it wasn’t other citizens. It was them.”

NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan said the province needs to help fund the regional event security recommended by the report. Corrigan said Chu is wrong that people can’t be charged with additional offences if new evidence comes forward.

Police asked City of Vancouver officials to make the outdoor gathering a ticketed event and check everyone for alcohol, but there wasn’t time to organize that, Keefe said. And the 100,000 people who massed in the streets outside the live site led to the congestion and confusion that allowed looting and vandalism to continue for several hours.

Regional cooperation and planning would have helped, but there is no indication that a new regional police service would help, the reviewers said.

The full report is available here.