A former Vancouver police crowd-control expert says his former colleagues did a better job handling last night’s Stanley Cup riot than the 1994 Stanley Cup riot on Robson Street.
Dave Jones, a former inspector in charge of the downtown district, told the Georgia Straight by phone he would give the VPD a B+ for its efforts.
“They obviously had a plan to move people in certain directions—mostly toward transit—so they could have the option of getting out of town,” Jones remarked. “They didn’t get into some of the mistakes that they got into in ’94, where they didn’t have the ability to communicate between different tactical units.”
As a result, he said, in 1994, police pushed rioters into the centre of town. “This time, they were much more organized.”
Jones, a principal in JSI Security and Investigations Inc., noted that police were probably expecting Granville Street to be where any problems would arise. However, the trigger point for the riot was on Hamilton Street, where tens of thousands gathered to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final on large outdoor screens.
“The minute the crowd flipped out in the Hamilton Street area, they [police] had to redeploy resources,” Jones pointed out. “People in the crowd began to move to areas where the police weren’t [present]. That’s where the fights broke out and that’s when they started turning cars over in the parking lots and setting them on fire—and then, the smashing of glass.”
He added: “If I have one criticism, far too many people were packed into that fan-viewing area than the area could actually accommodate.”
Jones is “certain” there were people within the VPD who had serious concerns about the CBC and the city encouraging people to come downtown to watch the games on big outdoor screens.
He said that’s because with an increased density of people, it raises the likelihood of a small group in the crowd triggering a larger incident.
“When that fire went up [outside the main post office], people converted into a Lord of the Flies type of behaviour,” he declared.
Jones was downtown before and during the riot. The viewing areas on Homer and Hamilton streets were jammed with people. “It was a complete madhouse.”
Jones said it’s tough for police to respond because people often move faster than officers can arrive on the scene to quell a disturbance. “A lot of people were drunk out of their minds last night,” he acknowledged. “But I also saw a lot of people who were doing this, who appeared not to be drunk”¦.They were able to move with great agility and had great coordination to flip cars.”
The former inspector said there were three categories of people caught up in the disturbance.
One percent, he believed, wanted to cause a "destination-adventure riot". He said that these people lead such boring lives that a riot becomes a form of entertainment.
"It was a one-of-a-kind thing of their life," he commented.
Another 20 percent were "staring in wonderment" at what was happening. Then, he suggested, a huge component of the crowd was running around, egging on the tiny group.
"It was like they had all lost their minds," he said. "The minute that fire went on, they became animalistic."
Jones thinks the city should install cameras in the Granville area and other zones where there is a great deal of entertainment. And they should only be activated for large events, such as the Stanley Cup playoffs, to help police make personnel-deployment decisions.
He also favours the police using long-range audio devices to get messages across to people in the midst of a riot.
“The biggest problem we have is to communicate with those who don’t wish to be involved in the event—and to give them instructions on which way to go,” he stated. “Seeing the line of police advancing on you and the puffing of tear gas is not, to my mind, the best way to communicate to a group that you want them to move in a certain direction.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.