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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in Vancouver June 23, 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in Vancouver June 23, 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

VANCOUVER RIOT

'I didn't know any details,' Vancouver mayor says of police plan Add to ...

As pressure continues to build on Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu to disclose the number of officers he had on the street to combat what would become a riotous Stanley Cup final crowd in the thousands, the city's mayor has now revealed that he, too, has tried to get that number - but his top cop refuses to tell him.

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In his first, in-depth interview since the mayhem of June 15, Mayor Gregor Robertson also said that while he had many conversations with his chief in the days leading up to the Game 7 riot about police preparations, he did not know what the plan to control the downtown core looked like.

"I didn't know any details," the mayor said. "That's how the system is set up. … I have full confidence in the chief and the chief is responsible for that plan."

Mr. Robertson's extraordinary disclosures are not likely to make his post-riot life any easier. Not knowing the particulars of the police plan is one thing; not being able to control his police chief is another. Who's running the city anyway?

The question of how many officers were on the streets at the time of the riot has become a major point of contention. Both the police chief and the mayor have since acknowledged that more officers could have been used to control a crowd now estimated to have been close to 150,000. But both have consistently refused to say how many officers there were on patrol when trouble broke out.

Now, in a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with The Globe and Mail, the mayor explained that he tried to get the number out of Chief Chu but came away empty-handed.

"There's a really clear line between deployment and operations and the chief and the police board," the mayor said. "And so that information is crucial to the chief's operations and public safety and security."

"As mayor you don't have access to those numbers?" Mr. Robertson was asked.

"He doesn't share those numbers."

"If you asked him he would say I'm not going to tell you?"

"Yeah," the mayor said. "I've talked to him about this."

"And what did he say?"

" 'I'm not sharing those numbers for operational reasons.' It's not something they share."

Last year, the VPD and the city disclosed the number of police officers that would be deployed during the playoffs - right down to the number of bike patrols there would be. Asked what was different this time around, Mr. Robertson said that information was not supposed to be released last year. It was a mistake.

"I trust the chief," the mayor said. "I'm not an expert on policing. The numbers would not make a significant difference in my input. I don't have input on the operations of the Vancouver Police Department. I chair the [police]board. The board's responsible for police and budget."

Mr. Robertson said the chief has since assured him the number of officers on the ground was comparable to what there was on the streets for the gold-medal hockey game at the 2010 Olympics.

"So in terms of scenario planning, I think they did their homework," Mr. Robertson said. "This is why I've asked the chief about releasing the numbers because I think they will substantiate that there was a plan and a scenario comparable to the biggest historical gathering downtown that they were preparing for."

But the chief has so far refused to budge, even for the mayor.

Shortly after The Globe's interview with the mayor on Thursday, the VPD released a statement concerning the "media attention" that has focused on the number of officers on the street the night of the riot. The release repeated the mayor's assertion that the number was comparable to the gold-medal hockey game but added that there was no "correct" number. It also stated that the decision not to release the number was to protect officers and the public.

In the interview, the mayor covered a wide terrain of issues.

He said he had full confidence in his police chief and had no intention of seeking his resignation.

The mayor spoke about the anger he felt as he began to get reports of the deteriorating situation downtown: "I was pissed. I just couldn't believe how quickly it degenerated and how readily many hundreds of people took up arms to attack the city after being instigated by some very focused trouble-makers. … I was angry that so many people got swept up in that and lost their heads and they became the problem rather than the initial group that started with evil intentions."

Asked if he agreed that the potential for trouble was underestimated by the police and the city, the mayor said: "I agree. I think collectively we underestimated the potential for trouble from the policing needs for Game 7, for the capacity of the live site, which got swamped that afternoon. I think the response on dealing with alcohol downtown that day, obviously there were some real issues there. There are a number of elements that clearly were not, where we were not prepared for what happened … we made mistakes in not preparing for that to happen. Therefore it got out of hand."

Mr. Robertson said that as mayor the buck stops with him and he assumed responsibility for any of the planning failures. "I do take responsibility … but that said, we do have to focus on those who committed criminal acts in terms of culpability."

The mayor said he wants the city to continue to play host to large-scale public events that attract crowds upwards of 100,000 people. He said the value of the independent review taking place into what happened June 15 is that it will outline what mistakes were made and what should have been done differently.

While the mayor has dealt with the aftermath of the riot head on, making himself available to the media every day, Chief Chu has not. After showing up at news conferences the first two days after the riot, the city's top cop has not been heard from since.

Asked if he thought his chief should be more available given the many questions there are about the police role in the riot, Mr. Robertson said: "It's up to the chief. It's always helpful to be front and centre and responding … I'm hopeful he's more available in the days ahead. In this case, I respect his judgment on giving a little time for the emotion to subside."

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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