Vancouver's insufficient police presence during the city's worst riot flowed from the early - and mistaken - belief by police that crowds gathering in the downtown core for the Canucks Stanley Cup playoff run would be smaller than in previous years, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail indicate.
Minutes from a March 2 finance committee meeting of the Vancouver Police Board, released after an FOI request from The Globe, attribute that belief to "a decrease in momentum" and a spreading of celebratory throngs to other areas of the Lower Mainland.
The result was a policing budget for the 2011 playoffs that was just two-thirds of the police department's 2010 playoff estimate, and an eventual police presence that both Mayor Gregor Robertson and police chief Jim Chu now concede was too small.
Although police contained the riot within three hours, dozens of businesses were vandalized, vehicles were set ablaze, and estimates of property damage range as high as $5-million. In the days since the riot erupted, both the mayor's office and Vancouver police have come under intense scrutiny over security preparations for the massive crowds that flocked to the downtown, particularly with predictions that there would be no repeat of the infamous 1994 Canucks riot.
The documents obtained by The Globe, along with public budget figures, indicate police were at least initially planning a more modest presence than the 332 officers contemplated last year. But it is not clear how - if at all - the Vancouver police adjusted its staffing plan in the face of unexpectedly large crowds. The force is refusing to directly answer questions this week about its actions before and during the riot, and has declined to hold press conferences on other routine matters.
In March, when the police board questioned the reduced 2011 budget, police said they were "confident" that the smaller budget would suffice for this year's playoffs, according to an e-mailed statement Wednesday from Mr. Robertson, also chair of the police board.
The 2011 budget was prepared before the CBC, and then the city, established live-site fan zones in the downtown for the final three rounds of the playoffs. By Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, crowds had grown to more than 100,000 people, and far more gathered downtown for the showdown in Game 7.
In his e-mailed statement, Mr. Robertson said, "Chief Chu has said - and I agree - that in hindsight, there should have been more police deployed that night. That's obviously something an independent review will look at. There are clearly lessons to be learned and applied to future celebrations."
Minutes from an in camera meeting of the police board - two weeks after its finance committee met - reveal that the playoff deployment plan presented to the board by Inspector Rick McKenna contained "more modest" staffing levels than those called for in other years.
The playoff policing budget presented by Chief Chu to city council in April totalled $648,000. That was $320,000 less than the $968,000 police had sought in 2010. The 2010 budget was based on 332 police officers in the streets for each of the final four games of a Cup final, including 100 RCMP officers, if the Canucks had advanced that far.
Both budgets were based on the Canucks advancing through four rounds of playoffs, and seven games played in each round.
Chief Chu's report to council contained only a brief explanation of why police felt they needed fewer officers and less money than in the past.
"Our most recent experience allows us to reduce our deployment from that of past years, while still allowing us to respond appropriately," his report said.
But the report added: "Costs may rise based on fan reaction. However, this cost may be reduced should one or more of the series end in fewer than seven games." Round two ended in six games, while the Canucks eliminated the San Jose Sharks in five games.
In cutting budget projections for the 2011 playoff run, the VPD may also have been influenced by the actual costs of policing the two rounds that the Canucks were part of in 2010.
Predicted policing costs for those 10 games were $95,000. According to Chief Chu's report to council this year, however, actual spending was $39,803.
With reports from Vivian Luk