Vancouver police are struggling to process a huge volume of information that has been streaming in over the Internet since last week's Stanley Cup riot, swamping investigators with tips that come augmented by videos, pictures and YouTube links.
The Vancouver Police Department has been so swamped that it is asking people to hang on to any evidence they have, after they have filed a tip, and not to expect an immediate response.
"The sheer volume and speed of the information is overwhelming," Sergeant Dale Weidman said.
In a statement, the VPD, which has more than 36 officers and civilian analysts assigned to the Integrated Riot Investigation Team, said a "massive and unprecedented investigation" has been launched to use the outpouring of public data to identify and arrest those who took part in criminal acts during the riot.
The police have received about 3,500 e-mails so far, and many of those have come with attached photos, videos or links to social media sites. Sgt. Weidman said it is a challenge sorting through all that information and linking it to the crimes committed when vehicles were burned, stores were looted, more than 200 business windows were broken, and police and other individuals were assaulted.
And the Web-based flood of information has upended the usual police investigative process, with people identifying suspects and sending photographic evidence before police even know what crimes may have taken place.
"In a routine case we have a clear crime and then take steps to identify the suspect and compile evidence. In these cases, we have names of suspects before we know exactly what they did and where they did it. Obtaining that information quickly is the challenge as we work backwards from the end point to the beginning," said Sgt. Weidman.
Of the e-mails police have received so far, 53 have videos attached, 676 have links to YouTube postings, 798 have photographs, and more than 1,000 contain hyperlinks to other social media sites, mostly Facebook.
In a statement, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu urged people to voluntarily turn themselves in, as about a dozen people have already done.
"If you come in voluntarily, you can do so discreetly and at a time that is convenient for you," Chief Chu said. "If you wait until we find you – and we will find you – we will arrest you in a public manner suitable to the public crimes you have committed."
The police chief also refined a statement he made the day after the riot, in which he blamed the incident on a small group of hardcore criminals and anarchists. Since then, a number of people have been arrested who have no criminal history. Chief Chu said he is amending his position slightly as a more detailed picture takes shape.
"Based on the best information we had the following morning, we stated that the instigators among the mob were 'criminals, anarchists and thugs who came to town bent on destruction and mayhem' regardless of the outcome of the game," he said. "While we are still standing by that observation about the instigators, we are learning that most of the people that joined in the riot and that have now been charged represent a wider spectrum of young people, many of whom do not have criminal records."
Chief Chu said the RCMP, which provided a tactical squad to help quell the riot, is involved in the investigation because the people who were in the huge crowd that night come from many different communities in British Columbia.
As of Monday, 117 people have been arrested for actions during the riot. Many of those were arrested on Wednesday night for breach of peace.
Among those charged are Edgar Ricardo Garcia, 20, of Burnaby and Joshua Lyle Evans, 27, of Calgary, both in relation to an incident in which two men were stabbed at the corner of Hornby and West Georgia Streets, just outside the Hotel Vancouver.
Also Monday, police issued a statement urging the public "to resist the temptation to take justice into their own hands" by using the Internet to punish suspects. "In the ensuing high state of emotions following the recent hockey riot, there is a growing danger that the tools of social media will be used to mete out vigilante justice," said the statement, posted on the VPD website.