Canada’s most dangerous cities: Vancouver’s crackdown on crime is paying off

Police chief Jim Chu on his six-step approach to a safer city

by Ken MacQueen

For all of Vancouver’s über-green, laid-back urban vibe, it has a Wild West attitude toward crime. Gangs, drugs and troublemakers from the East account for the occasional shootouts and alcohol-fuelled riots, and they certainly explain why the city’s violent crime score last year was 55 per cent above the national average. That said, Vancouver is actually a crime-fighting success story. It has gone in the span of a decade from having some of the worst violent and non-violent crime scores in Canada to become one of its most improved. Its overall crime score plunged 49 per cent in 10 years, more than twice the rate of improvement of the country as a whole. Only the historically peaceful communities of Kawartha Lakes, Ont., Quebec City, and Roussillon, Que., south of Montreal, fared better or as well. Among the keys to Vancouver’s success are a series of crime-busting initiatives. Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu was happy to explain:

ConAir

Think of “Get outta Dodge” taken to the jet age. Fugitives with outstanding warrants in other provinces or cities have a habit of fleeing west to start their criminal careers afresh. Unless the warrant is for murder or other major mayhem, their home jurisdictions are often happy to saddle Vancouver with the problem. A plan was hatched to give cons with outstanding warrants an all-expenses-paid, escorted flight back to the scene of their crimes to face justice. Some of the cost of airfare comes, appropriately enough, from provincial funds forfeited from proceeds of crime.

To date, 96 people have been transported out of province: 37 to Ontario, 33 to Alberta, 11 to Manitoba, seven to Nova Scotia, four to Saskatchewan, three to Quebec and one to the Yukon. As an example of the payoff, Chu cites a con with a drug habit of about $300 a day. Assume he gets 10 cents on the dollar for the goods he steals to support his habit, says Chu. “So, 15 grand a week is not out of the question for the kinds of crimes that guy had to commit.”

Ganging up on gangsters

When hunting high-value gangbangers, it often pays to aim lower than charges for murder or drug importation. Sometimes the entry point into a gang bust is turning their source of guns, or their customers for drugs, or, in one case, promising an abused girlfriend protection in exchange for co-operation. “We would get them for any crime we could,” says Chu. New provincial anti-gang laws are another tool. One prohibits retrofitting vehicles with hidden compartments, armour and bullet-proof glass. Another law requires health care facilities to report gun and stab wounds. Civil forfeiture laws have streamlined seizure of proceeds of crime. And Bar and Restaurant Watch programs use bouncers, backed by a police squad, to keep gang members out of the hot night spots and high-end restaurants they favour. “It’s making it less fun to be a gang member, which is good,” says Chu.

Crime analysis and public flogging

Chu remembers when crime analysts were “really old cops who put pins on maps.” Today those in the department have advanced degrees. They do real-time analysis, adding statistical performance measures for investigators, redeploying resources to hot spots and even predicting where crimes may occur. The bottom-line performances of commanders and patrol team leaders are compared against other districts at regular meetings, he says. “It’s not completely a public flogging but it’s powerful accountability.” He credits crime analysts mining data for playing a huge role in the arrest in December 2010 of Ibata Noric Hexamer, a Vancouver political organizer charged with a string of violent sexual assaults against girls as young as six.

Try a little tenderness

Property crime, much of it fuelled by addiction, has been a plague in Vancouver. Surveilling chronic offenders and gathering evidence of “the full nature of their offences” to present to judges is the first step to gaining longer sentences. The next move is more social worker than beat cop. Detectives visit offenders in jail and discuss the needs for their release, whether it be detox, housing or other social support to stop their cycle of crime. “We’ve got some very creative, compassionate detectives who build up a rapport with these guys. I’ve gotten emails and letters saying, ‘Hey chief, detective so-and-so was just great with me. First guy that cared about me in years. I’m doing better now because of what he did for me.’ ”

Bridge building

Vancouver police launched SisterWatch with groups representing vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside. Improved relations are gradually overcoming a belief among women there—born of tragedies like the missing women’s case—that predators operate with near impunity. More women report assaults or provide tips now that they have evidence their claims are taken seriously. “It’s the legacy of Robert Pickton,” Chu says of SisterWatch.

Wanted Posters

It worked in the Old West, it works today. On a wet November day, Vancouver police and a corps of volunteers distributed 35,000 posters with photos of 104 unidentified people wanted in connection with the Stanley Cup riot last June. “Of 104 we got good tips on pretty much half of them,” says Chu. (His determination to see hundreds of rioters face charges will likely boost Vancouver’s 2011 crime rate.) The department also reaped a harvest with the latest ConAir 10 Most Wanted poster displayed on its website and elsewhere. Nine have been arrested. As for No. 10? Harold Richard Lambert, wanted for uttering death threats and other breaches, your ticket to Ottawa awaits.




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Canada’s most dangerous cities: Vancouver’s crackdown on crime is paying off

  1. Chief Jim Chu has been doing a great job.   ConAir and SisterWatch are making a difference. 
     
    A VPD beat cop who polices the DTES has started a blog about what he encounters on his shifts.   ”Eastside Stories: Diary of Vancouver Beat Cop”
     
     http://www.beatcopdiary.vpd.ca/    

  2. Crackdown on crime in Vancouver?  What nonsense.  In the last decade the Vancouver Police NO LONGER RESPOND to crimes such as break and enter and most property crimes.  Is it conceivable that people don’t bother calling the police and thus the statistics show a “reduction in crime?” 

    Also, North and West Vancouver score very low on the crime ratings.  Excuse me folks but North Van, West Van and Vancouver ARE THE SAME CITIES regardless of what the local mayor and council may have you believe.

    This article is nothing more than chapter ten in the ‘dumbing down of society’ instruction manual.

    • Please before you complain try living in another country where crime rates like this could be nothing more than a dream! Where I live police officers often times can’t even deal with the basic crimes such as break ins, car theft ,young children being rented out as slaves. Grenade attacks and large shootings are the things we worry about .. so please before you even think to complain about North Van or West Van or whatever remember you live in one of the most AMAZING cities in the world this article is a string of hope , hope that crime will continue to subside! At least you don’t live in fear every day wondering that that person knocking on your door could be next big thing to a corrupt police officer wanting money just because they need it or a drug cartel forcing you to pay them a security deposit in exchange for the ability to keep your life! I wish my family could live in Canada… 
      Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico, and following the multiple drug cartel 
      assassinations and grenade attacks targeting the local police, the security environment has 
      not improved over the past year.  Although none of the drug cartel violence has directly 
      targeted American citizens, several gun battles involving the use of AK-47 automatic rifles and 
      grenades have been waged within close proximity of places that Americans frequent on a 
      regular basis. Military units are playing an increasing role in supporting law enforcement 
      operations against organized crime. 
       
      Guadalajara does have issues of serious concern, such as a large drug trade, police 
      corruption (at the lower ranks), and a very slow rate of investigation, prosecution, and 
      conviction once a complaint has been filed. Though we rely on government statistics to 
      identify trends, it must be noted that under-reporting of crime is believed to be a significant 
      problem in Guadalajara (as it is elsewhere in Mexico). 

      •  ”so please before you even think to complain about North Van or West Van or whatever remember you live in one of the most AMAZING cities in the world this article is a string of hope , hope that crime will continue to subside” ..another one who didn’t travel beyond Coquitlam!! :) )

      • Pedro, the story is about crime and crime rates in Vancouver.  What part of this confuses you?  Considering crime rates in parts of Africa are MUCH worse than Mexico, following YOUR convoluted logic YOU shouldn’t complain.  Now, back on topic;  lobby our MP’s to keep the wetbacks out of the country or suffer the same societal degradation as Mexico.

    • What does it matter if North Van and West Van are part of Metro Vancouver? This is about what the police force is doing–the VPD is a separate force from the RCMP attachments on the North Shore. If there is a major crime reduction in one area and that area has applied unique strategies, that’s newsworthy.

      Have you been a victim of property crime in the last decade? Anyone I know and myself have always called the police when it’s major (not just a stolen iPod or bike) and the police go if it’s worthwhile but not if it’s a stolen backpack from a car. What are they gonna do, dust the car for fingerprints? The police have better things to do then send officers to every minor crime – I’m glad tax dollars are more efficiently being spent on crime PREVENTION. I once called the normal police line about a drunk driver swerving around traffic on a major street and they ADMONISHED me for not calling 911 instead.

      • What a scatterbrained response.  You may wish to consider that cities in north america don’t dissect neighborhoods, calculate statistics and post them as representative of the whole region.  If the crime statistics for all of the Vancouver region were calculated as one it would give a more accurate picture.  UNDERSTAND???  I doubt it. 

    • you’re an idiot…

  3. red deer alberta is terrible just last week a disabled  mute grandpa was assualted by a gang of sheriffs in the red deer courthouse  google ( Bill Berry Red Deer ) appalling

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