A lot has been written lately regarding the BC Police Commission's 1994 report regarding the Stanley Cup riot that took place in Downtown Vancouver. The report made a series of recommendations regarding how to prevent future riots. It focused mainly on the role of the Vancouver Police Department.
What few people know is two separate reports were also written by the City of Vancouver regarding their role in the '94 riot. The report was co-authored by former city employee Patti Marfleet. She is now currently a member of the Vancouver Police Board along with Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Before I get into the details of the report, I have to wonder whether anyone on the City's senior management team even read it. Were they even aware of its existence? It's a fair question given the fact that Mayor Robertson has either fired or pushed out almost the entire senior management team in the last 2.5 years. A trusted internal source tells me "there's only a 5% chance that anyone in the upper echelons of City Hall even know the report exists, let alone use it in their planning for last week's melee."
As for the report, it makes a number of key recommendations including:
- Establish a new Emergency Management Committee (EMC) comprising of a small group of City officials including City Manager, Police and Fire Chiefs and City Engineer. It was also recommended that the General Manager of the Park Board also be included for strategic reasons.
- The EMC be responsible for anticipating unhosted gatherings. Once anticipated, committee members would make the decision to either encourage the gathering and invoke the management strategies outlined in the report, or discourage it altogether.
- City officials must take a LEAD role in coordinating management strategies to avert trouble. To a large extent the strategies involve planning an "alternate event" providing the crowd with well managed activities and entertainment.
- It was recommended that the EMC has overall responsibility for identification of such events and for triggering the preventative strategies. The Police Department would be one of the players.
- Problems at large gatherings are minimized when "attractors" such as food and entertainment are used to draw and disperse crowds voluntarily. The general sentiment was that people should not be permitted to gather in a large crowd without something to do.
- Event Planning Strategy: The lead agency should be the Social Planning Department. To document how potential entertainment and activities should be planned and geographically located so as to draw and disperse large crowds; to document information about possible venues, equipment requirements, optimal number and size of crowd, etc.
- Transportation Management Strategy: The lead agency should be the Engineering Department.
- Communication Strategy: The lead agency should be the Communications Department. To document a plan for promoting a "celebrate safely" theme in advance of the anticipated gathering and at expected feeder sites.
- Security Strategy: The lead agency should be the Vancouver Police.
The report also states:
- On June 28, 1994, Council approved terms of reference and budget for a review of the management of large events in the city.
- The city's review was NOT intended to focus on police response issues, but rather to look at what the city and community can do in advance of anticipated gatherings.
- Most believed that the city (and its various departments) were in the best position to anticipate and manage a large gathering on public property and should take on that responsibility.
- Unlike most other large gatherings on public property, the 1994 hockey gatherings had no sponsor or promoter. In effect," it belonged to no one."
A background report which accompanied the main report focused on the anatomy of a riot. It describes the role of the media, and the dynamics of bringing a lot of people together in a confined area. It should have been a must read for Vancouver City officials planning last week's Game 7 event. The report states:
The location of an event is very important. Events held within a facility are usually the easiest to control as facilities have distinct boundaries and the crowd may be more easily contained...In addition to a plan, some basic crowd management principles can prevent most problem situations from arising.
Outdoor events can be more problematic. In many cases, such as Robson Street, the site is not enclosed or restricted in any manner and site containment can be a major problem. Without specified access points, it is very easy for an event at an open site to get out of control as it is difficult to check for alcohol and control attendance and there is no way to evict people from the site.
One of the more interesting observations in the report related to crowd management:
At any special event, there is an added concern: that of keeping the crowd busy. There is a greater potential for trouble when people mill about aimlessly (I recommend our readers check out this incredible video demonstration to see what the authors were talking about).
Most riots are preceded by a period of "milling around." Although the crowd seems to be aimlessly moving about during this period, its members are really exchanging rumours and facts and building up the energy and courage necessary for mob action.
I have a lot of questions after reading both of these reports. Here are a few of them:
- Did city officials follow the recommendations in their own '94 report? Did the Mayor or his staff?
- Did the Mayor and/or City management even read the reports?
- Jim Chu is on the hot seat for his role in the June 15th operations, but is Penny Ballem and her team being held accountable for their role?
- Was the Emergency Management Committee set up and coordinated? If so, how often did it meet and can we see a copy of the plan/minutes?
- Did the City just leave most of the riot preparations up to the police?
- If there was an EMC, wouldn't it have made sense for the City Manager to have read the BC Police Commission report into the 1994 riots BEFORE last week's chaos?
- Why were no "alternate" events planned to help disperse the crowd and keep them "active"?
- Why were no volunteers recruited to help in the management of the crowd?
- Why did Patti Marfleet, author of the report, not raise significant issues at the Police Board meetings?
- The Vancouver Sun reports the most recent Police Board meeting ended an hour early with no discussion of CBC Fan Zone security. Why?
There are so many other questions that arise from these two reports, but I'll get to those in the coming days. For now, I hope our readers take the time to read both of them, and ensure that we hold our public officials accountable for the events of last week. Otherwise, we're simply bound to repeat our mistakes – again.