BY RATTAN MALL
VANCOUVER Police Chief Constable Jim Chu told The VOICE this week that if young South Asians were looking for an “interesting career” they should join the Vancouver Police Department.
He noted: “There’s lots of young South Asian officers in our new cadet program. Several of them are interested in being police officers.”
He said that was a compliment to the South Asian community “for helping turn the tide of young people getting into gang violence,” adding, “I think the community really helped improve that themselves by speaking out against it.”
Chu, who was appointed the chief in August 2007, suddenly announced last month, that he was retiring after 36 years with the Vancouver Police.
Chu was raised in East Vancouver and graduated from Charles Tupper Secondary. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Simon Fraser University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of British Columbia.
Stressing the importance of community policing centres and their crime prevention work, Chu pointed out that the police video of the distraction scam that targeted South Asian women wearing jewellery was produced by South Asian police officers who know the community and the current issues.
Chu added: “I think that’s an example of why it’s been so important to recruit officers especially from the South Asian community because they know the community, they reflect the community and they help us to provide better service to the community.”
He singled out Superintendent Steve Rai for praise, calling him “a future leader” and noting: “I promoted him twice and I think he’s got one or two more promotions in him – I think he’s going to be a deputy chief down the road, potentially a chief.”
WHEN I asked Chu about the South Slope area (Vancouver’s southeast sector), he said: “The South Slope situation is way better than I think it’s been in decades. And while there’s still sometimes tensions, the number of shots fired are down significantly.” Also, there hadn’t been any homicides recently.
Chu added: “I give a lot of credit to our Youth Outreach to let young people know that the gangs aren’t cool.”
He pointed out that the South Vancouver Policing Centre that has an office at the Ross Street Gurdwara has “helped parents have a resource because if they have a young person that’s going the wrong way, they know they can turn to the police in so many ways – whether it’s the school liaison officer or the community policing centre.”
Chu said he is really proud of the South Asian officers that are working in that area, calling them “great role models.”
He added: “Many of them have taken an interest in young people and sat down with them and said you’re going the wrong way and the young person rather than looking at the gangster, looks at a police officer who is very responsible, a great role model, and I am really happy with those officers. They march with me every year in the Vaisakhi Parade. We get about 25 officers out and it’s one of my prouder moments to walk with all those South Asian officers.”
He pointed out that the officers bring their families along on the occasion, adding, “That’s my point: we don’t police the community, we police WITH the community.”
Here’s the rest of my edited interview:
VOICE: When you look back, what do you think have been your greatest accomplishments as the Chief?
CHU: I am happy that we are getting along better with all segments of the community and we are not policing the community; we are policing WITH the community. So we are looking for every group to help us make the City safer.
In other areas, I am happy that crime has fallen each year that I have been Chief and it’s also falling faster in Vancouver than in the rest of Canada. We set some record-low homicide numbers: in 2012 we had eight, in 2013 we had six, and in 2014 we had nine. So three years of below double digits and these are the three lowest [homicide] years that we’ve seen since we started keeping records in the early 1950s.
In the early 90s, we had one year (1991) when we had 41 homicides – and that’s with fewer people in the city. We are happy about the reductions there.
We used to be known as the bank robbery capital of Canada. For example in 2007 we had 185. In 2014, we had 27.
VOICE: What police cases stand out?
CHU: Well, there are several horrendous crimes that we solved and one of them was the capture of Ninderjit Singh – the [murder] case of [18-year-old Vancouver school student] Poonam Randhawa who was killed in 1999. In 2011, there was a quite involved police investigation. I was on my blackberry and they were sending me email updates about: ‘We are getting closer … We are getting closer … Now we have to wait a few hours … Now we are getting closer … Now we are moving in’ and I am following this on my blackberry. Like there’s simply nothing I can do as Police Chief, but I am just so excited and hoping that it’s the right guy and that we catch him. And in the end, when we moved in – he had known the police were coming for him, so he’d packed all the stuff and he was about to leave -we just got him in southern California. He pled guilty after, but that was a really happy moment in the VPD to solve a cold case like that.
Another one involved a man named Nathan Fry who burned down a home in east Vancouver [in May 2006] and killed five people [39-year-old Adela Etibako, her three children — Stephane, 8, Benedicta, 9, and 12-year-old Edita — and their 17-year-old friend Ashley Singh]. … Our Major Crime investigators spent a lot of time on the case and in the end we were able to arrest Nathan Fry and convict him of first-degree murder. So that was a real happy moment.
Those are examples of why we do what we do in policing because there’s people that hurt others and when we are able to put them in jail, there’s so much satisfaction. As Police Chief I don’t get involved in any of that, I stay out of the way, but my big job is to make sure the investigators have what they need to be successful.
VOICE: Any disappointments?
CHU: We continue to struggle with calls involving the mentally ill and 20 per cent of our calls citywide involve somebody with a mental disorder and it’s not about stigmatizing them, because if you’ve been apprehended under the mental health act , you are 23 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime. So we are emphasizing that the people with mental illness need the health system, not the criminal justice system.
VOICE: How do you see policing changing over the next 10 years in Metro Vancouver?
CHU: I think that all police agencies have to work with the communities and encourage volunteers to help and we are struggling because to put cases forward, the criminal justice system is becoming more and more complex and there are more and more requirements for paperwork that mean less time for investigating crime or being out there for patrol. That’s a concern for us.
VOICE: What do you think are the challenges that Vancouver is going to face in the future?
CHU: I think we will continue to face the challenges of drug addiction and that’s how our property crime occurs – people will steal to support their drug habit and then others become victims of property crime. And then the drug territories are so lucrative that the gangs that are trying to control those territories and sell to all those addicts will engage in gang violence in order to knock off the competition and control the drug areas. So we have to keep a lid on gang violence because the drug trade is so lucrative.
VOICE: Do you think any progress is being made on this front?
CHU: I think we have sent a good message to the gangs that especially if you get engaged in violence, you will be a police target. In Vancouver, we had different projects where we’ve gone after people that are likely to shoot others and we’ve also solved some pretty serious gang homicide cases. And we are doing everything we can, especially with Bar Watch and Restaurant Watch, to make sure gangsters know they are not welcome to Vancouver. So we definitely will go into bars and restaurants that are partners with the Vancouver Police and without the staff saying anything, we’ll just tell gangsters they are not welcome.
VOICE: How much has the diversity improved since you’ve been chief?
CHU: We’re about 20 per cent visible minority police officers and we are 24 per cent women – so that’s higher than when I started. And I am also happy that in the management ranks we have six female inspectors and one female superintendent. So there definitely is more diversity in the organization and that’s a part … because we have to reflect the community we police.
VOICE: What do you think about the future of a metro police force?
CHU: There’s been so much talk about it and I don’t see it happening. There are several mayors that like what they have. I think Vancouver should like what they have and they have a Vancouver Police Department that is world-class and we provide great quality service. So if in future, the mayors change their minds, then we may see a change. But right now I don’t see it changing. I’ve always said this: if we had to design the ideal structure from scratch, we probably wouldn’t design what we have now.