The Vancouver Police Department was naive. Naive and woefully out of touch with what was happening on the streets. Police simply did not think, after the generally positive experience with the Vancouver Olympics last winter, that people would riot. It was hours before they noticed people gathering by the thousands, already soused, drinking openly on buses and subways and in the streets, in the early afternoon of Game 7, according to an independent review released on Thursday,
At last, 2½ months after the June 15 riot, the public has a glimpse of what went wrong. The police chief, Jim Chu, would not even say at the time how many police he deployed. The numbers turn out to have been 446 and eventually, drawing on regional forces, 928. The heads of the review, John Furlong and Douglas Keefe, say in their impressive report that those numbers were reasonable. They weren’t. How can 928 officers control 155,000 people? Impossible.
It is Mr. Chu, not Mayor Gregor Robertson, who bears primary responsibility for the loss of control. Mayors (even when they chair the police board) should not be interfering in operational decisions.
Preventing a riot is not an exact science. A riot happened after a Stanley Cup victory in Edmonton. It happened after a loss in Vancouver in 1994 and again in June. Mr. Furlong and Mr. Keefe have the right idea when they encourage early planning with all the agencies involved, and a focus on “planning for the worst.” But they are not convincing that another riot can be avoided.
We have said before that Vancouver needs to take back its streets from the hooligans. But 155,000 people crowded into fairly narrow streets are impossible to police, the report points out. Sad as it is to contemplate, the city needs to think twice about inviting people by the thousands into the streets for future Stanley Cup finals, at least until it has a credible plan (nowhere in evidence) for forestalling a riot. It would be reckless and naive to do otherwise, and Vancouver cannot afford such naiveté again.
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