VANCOUVER – Vancouver Police are beefing up security for the first major public event in the city since the Stanley Cup riot, while at the same time saying they have no reason to believe there will be any repeat of the chaos.
The department has called in reinforcements from police forces across Metro Vancouver to put more officers on the streets for the Celebration of Light, a fireworks competition held on three nights, starting Saturday.
Police presence will be stepped up by 25 to 30 per cent from past years, a decision made in consultation with the city and largely funded by event organizers.
“There will be more police working than at fireworks nights in past years – both in Vancouver and on the transportation routes into the city,” Chief Jim Chu told reporters on Thursday. “More police means we can more vigorously enforce liquor laws.”
Chu has come under fire for the deployment of officers the night the Canucks lost the hockey final against the Boston Bruins. He’s steadfastly refused to state the number of cops on the street that night, citing strategic reasons, but critics say it clearly wasn’t enough.
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Both Chu and city officials have, in part, blamed alcohol for fuelling crowds that rampaged through the downtown core, setting cars on fire, trashing business storefronts and looting.
On Saturday, hundreds of police will patrol on the beaches, in boats on the water and from the air as fireworks are set off from a barge anchored in the city’s English Bay. That includes 75 officers from the RCMP and police departments in Abbotsford, New Westminster, Delta, West Vancouver and Port Moody.
Transit police, the BC Ambulance Service and Vancouver Fire and Rescue will also help keep an eye on the crowds.
“There’s no doubt the events of June 15 had an effect and will continue to have an effect on how we plan for large major events in the city of Vancouver,” Const. Lindsey Houghton said in an interview.
“We’re not expecting any problems and we have nothing to suggest it’ll be any different than in previous years.”
Revellers have been generally well-behaved at the family-oriented event in recent years, with only handfuls of arrests made on each show night – usually for public drunkenness. On the busiest nights police have charted more than 500 hundred liquor pour-outs.
About a decade ago, Houghton said police began heavier enforcement because stabbings occurred.
But he said anyone who infers from the stepped up presence that the force expects another riot is wrong.
“It’s a very, very different demographic and a very different event,” he said, noting thousands of people were crammed into a small blocked off area of the city to watch Game 7 on huge screens.
“This is an event where people travel from one place to another, watch for 20 minutes and then leave.”
Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said putting up a heftier police presence is a “prudent decision” in light of the June 15 riot.
Dozens of the association’s members’ stores were looted, resulting in millions of dollars in damage.
“Hopefully we can learn from our latest experience with hockey and finds ways maybe we can tackle this issue once and for all,” he said.
Chu also warned parents that if youth under 19 are caught drinking, parents will be telephoned and expected to deal with them. If the same youth later damages property, parents could be civilly liable under a provincial law called the Parental Responsibility Act.
A civilian force of 150 volunteers with the Citizens’ Crime Watch will also be on the streets, not easily detectable because they won’t be in uniform as they aim to spot liquor violations or other trouble.
Rioters caused millions of dollars in damage on the night of the Stanley Cup rampage, which raged for hours until police in riot gear unleashed tear gas.
Police expect to lay hundreds of charges and have already identified 111 potential suspects, including 37 people who turned themselves in after members of the public posted thousands of cellphone photos of rioters online.
The province has announced an independent, publicly funded review of the riot to scrutinize police preparations and what factors led to the melee.