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How VPD Secured City During 2010 Olympic Games Without Repressing It

Women laughing with a police officer at the Olympic Games in a photograph by Linda Solomon

 Chief Constable Jim  Chu, cognizant of the many terrible things  that could go wrong during one of the most important chapters in Vancouver's history, attended briefings every morning at 7:30 a.m. during the 2010 Winter Games. “He went to dozens and dozens of briefings during that period,” Lindsey Houghton, a media relations officer for the VPD said.  

Jim Chu

Chu (pictured above)  sat on the edge of his chair agonizing as helicopter video streamed in live footage of the demonstrations taking outside BC Place during the opening ceremonies.  He worked twenty hour days.  He was on the job more than perhaps any other officer on the police force.  And now, observers say, Chief Chu has much to feel proud of.  Roundly viewed as one of the great successes in the world tome of security stories that can keep people safe but leave bitter legacies due to heavy handed tactics,  the story behind the policing at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games has just begun to be told.

 

The Vancouver Police Department had long prepared for protests and intended to "facilitate" rather than prevent them, Houghton said.  As the "city of jurisdiction," Houghton said Vancouver was able to set the tone of the Integrated Security Unit's (ISU) posture in dealing with protesters and with crowds.

 

For Chief Chu, being sure that this happened "went beyond a little bit of business as usual," Houghton said.  "For him it was, as always, we can’t compromise on public safety.  We never know what’s going to happen until that minute comes, but it was about facilitating peaceful and lawful protests, because we knew that they were going to happen and we had been saying for months, we believe that free speech in Canada is an inherent right and we are going to do everything we can to protect that.

 

"We saw that on the night of the Opening Ceremonies," Houghton continued.  "We had about 1500 protesters down at Beatty and Robson protesting, and there were people spitting at our officers faces, throwing vinegar at them, throwing spears at them." The "spears" were made out of sharpened flag poles, Houghton said,  "and they were throwing them,  at least a dozen, and two of our officers ended up getting hurt and going to hospital. But from a public safety perspective we knew we had to show discipline and restraint and to facilitate people who were protesting lawfully  There were about 1400 people who were protesting lawfully. About about 100 of the criminal element."


In the words of another observer close to Chu:  "It would have taken only one police officer to lose it and lash out to change the tone.  "Chief Chu knew this and he was calm, but you could see what he was thinking, almost praying that no one would lose it. It would have only taken one officer to go ballistic and it would have changed the whole tone of the Games.  And it didn’t, and that is the one of the most powerful legacies of the Games for the City.  The way the security functioned.  The humanity the police showed.  Cities around the world will want to take note of what happened here."

 

Houghton said the Vancouver Police Department had worked with ISU and government partners "to make sure everyone understood everyone’s roles and to be sure they understood the philosophy we have in Vancouver.  We pride ourselves with having a good relationship with people here.  We think when it comes to crowd management we are one of the best out there. 

 

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