08/17/2011 01:58 EDT | Updated 10/17/2011 05:12 EDT

Vancouver's Stanley Cup Riots Not Comparable To London, Say Police


VANCOUVER - With smoke charring the skies, smashed storefronts and young testosterone-fuelled men running amok, the look and feel of neighbourhoods throughout Britain earlier this month were eerily reminiscent of the Stanley Cup riot Vancouver.

But atmospheric details that shamed cities continents apart is where the similarity ends, says the Vancouver Police Force in bucking criticism that it hasn't acted fast enough to punish troublemakers while the United Kingdom has already sent lawbreakers to jail.

Charges have yet to be laid two months after havoc rocked Vancouver's downtown core when the Canucks lost the hockey final. In contrast, London police have charged 1,000 suspects since the ruckus began on Aug. 6.

"(While) both countries are plagued with the stigma of hosting a riot, they are simply not comparable," Staff Sgt. Lee Patterson told reporters Wednesday, laying out a series of differences to illustrate.

The Vancouver riot was small compared to the deviance that began in London and spread.

The West Coast skirmish broke out spontaneously for several hours within a pre-planned gathering of sports spectators, while a social injustice march in a high-tension area of London sparked nights of violence that moved to several distinct communities.

Both involved young participants, but many in Vancouver were from "financially stable backgrounds," said Patterson, a 19-year veteran who was deployed during the Vancouver brawl and who has also policed numerous riots in England before moving to Canada.

A lengthy history of public disorder, from soccer hooliganism to miner strikes and race riots, has evolved the U.K. justice system to allow expedient court processing. Police are unarmed and must rely on legislation to restore order, so they have different powers to enter homes and different rules for evidence gathering.

An expansive web of police officers and detectives numbering many times those on the ground in Vancouver made netting suspects there swift, he said. Cities were in close proximity so that reinforcements could be brought in with little difficulty.

Some 16,000 officers snaked through London while one Vancouver-area police chief has said 800 police officers were out by the end of the B.C. melee.

And a network of closed circuit cameras in the London area meant police could watch the disorder in real time and direct officers to quell behaviour immediately, as well as identify suspects with ease. Such a tool is rare and controversial in Canada.

"They didn't have to pick out faces and prove continuity of movement among 100,000 people," Patterson said.

That's why it's still likely to take "months" before Vancouver investigators completely sort through the mountains of evidence to be in a position to make arrests, explained Vancouver Chief Jim Chu.

When they do, hundreds of people are expected to be charged, he said. Police have so far identified 268 suspects.

"If you participated in the riot, you should not have a false sense of security because this is taking so long."

Investigators are scouring 1,600 hours of video of the chaos. The force is spending $160,000 to use a high-tech police lab in Indianapolis for analysis, meaning the process will take weeks instead of two years. It's expected to bring in cost-savings in the long-run.

Even laying charges against 41 people who turned themselves in has proven difficult. In some cases, youths were brought in by their parents, but police can't find evidence to support charges against them.

In others, officers have discovered that people who confessed to minor acts were actually involved in more serious crimes.

"If you are in favour of speed, you are in favour of more acquittals and lighter sentences," Chu said.

Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday the province can ensure that when charges are forwarded to the Crown, the Crown moves on them quickly. She said the province can also make sure court time is available.

"I have to have confidence in the VPD knowing that they are doing the best they can to put some really solid evidence together so that when charges come forward to the province, we can do our bit."

Four Crown prosecutors have been working with Vancouver police in preparation for the slew of recommendations for charges, but more could be brought onboard if necessary, said spokesman Neil McKenzie.

Eight charges, for offences like mischief and break and enter, were forwarded only days after the riot but prosecutors sent them back for more information. Two suspects in a stabbing case that happened during the riot have stood before the court.

McKenzie said it's not possible to predict if it will take an hour or a day for the team to review each file once in hand from police before approving each charge.

"It is clear the process the police are undertaking right now ... is aimed at providing reports to Crown that we will be able to review effectively and efficiently," he said.