The Transformational Canadians program celebrates 25 living citizens who have made a difference by immeasurably improving the lives of others. Readers were invited to nominate Canadians who fit this description. Over the next several weeks, a panel of six judges will select 25 Transformational Canadians from among the nominees.
Jim Chu, Vancouver Police Chief, has been selected one of 25 Transformational Canadians.
Jim Chu still enjoys pounding the pavement. The former police detective spent Halloween night with his officers on the rain-drenched streets of downtown Vancouver. After an uneventful evening, Mr. Chu headed home at 2 a.m.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a shooting.
In his immaculate office overlooking the water, Vancouver's chief constable doesn't hide his disappointment. "I was like, 'Rats, I would have liked to have gone down there and checked out what was happening.'"
As police chiefs go, Mr. Chu is, well, disarming. He's also very smart - shown by his strategy for mingling with the rank and file. "You get information that's outside the chain of command," says the father of four, who joined the force in 1979.
By working his way up to the top post in 2007, Mr. Chu became the first non-white officer to head the Vancouver Police Department.
He inherited a tough file. In the poverty stricken Downtown Eastside, a botched investigation had failed to stop serial killer Robert Pickton, who was recently convicted of murdering six women and charged in the deaths of another 20. And a simmering gang turf war had erupted in early 2009, leading to dozens of public shootings.
When he started his new job, Mr. Chu, 51 - who arrived in Vancouver when he was three as an immigrant from Shanghai - set two main goals. "I wanted to reduce crime in the city and make it safer," he says. "I also wanted to make the quality of life in Vancouver better."
Amiable as Mr. Chu may be, he has no tolerance for criminals and public disorder. He used intelligence gathering to identify the city's most violent gang members, pushing his force to charge them with drug and other offences and get them out of society. "Getting the people who are likely to go out and shoot each other off the streets does help suppress gang violence," Mr. Chu says.
He also understands that knowledge is power. He holds an MBA and has managed several technology projects for the police department. He also oversaw the department's finances as a deputy chief. To increase the force's effectiveness, he and his deputies use a statistical mapping technique called CompStat - developed by the New York City Police Department - to quiz subordinates monthly on their crime reduction progress. "Everybody had better have good answers, because if they don't, we're holding them accountable," he says.
There's evidence that Mr. Chu's methods work. In 2009, Vancouver's total number of reported crimes fell 7.6 per cent over the previous year. Property crime and violent crime dropped 10.6 per cent and 3.7 per cent, respectively.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Mr. Chu is mindful of the police department's public image. During the recent Winter Olympics, his 1,300 officers defused violent protests and managed huge celebratory crowds without using strong-arm tactics. Mr. Chu says they employed a "meet-and-greet" strategy that saw them intervene quickly and courteously before the party got out of hand.
The police head has also taken the unorthodox step of calling for a civilian-led body to handle public complaints against B.C. police. He says such an agency will end the criticism that cops cover things up when they investigate themselves. "I don't believe that's the case - we do a very thorough job - but as long as that perception remains, I'm not sure we can be successful with these investigations."
For someone so capable and savvy in a region where visible minorities are the majority, a run for office might be in order. Noting that his contract runs until 2015, Mr. Chu insists he has no political ambitions. "I've got one job right now - to take care of the police department," he says. "I don't think about other things."
Jim Chu on his early life and career
I grew up in the '70s. It was the big melting pot of people that grew up in East Vancouver. Coming on the police department, I was the third Chinese Canadian officer, and I really had to always work hard to say, 'Well, I didn't get hired because I have a Chinese background. I'm a police officer first and someone with a Chinese ethnic heritage second.'
Organizational clarity. We're all working toward goals that are identifiable, and we set performance targets. So we have many metrics related to crime reduction, response times and other facets. Those are things that we all want to work toward in order to make Vancouver - the overall goal - the safest major city in Canada.