Undercover police operation in Downtown Eastside uncovers kindness
BY NICK EAGLAND, THE PROVINCE JULY 16, 2015
An undercover investigation in the Downtown Eastside targeting violent offenders who target people living with disabilities didn’t yield an arrest, but showed a supportive community, Vancouver police say.
An undercover police operation meant to catch criminals who prey on those most vulnerable instead turned up an outpouring of kindness in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
During May and June, Vancouver police conducted a probe to find out who was responsible for 28 offences — including six robberies, 21 assaults and one sexual assault — against wheelchair-dependent people in the city since January 2014.
Undercover operator Staff-Sgt. Mark Horsley, who spent 16 hours over five days posing as a quadriplegic who’d suffered brain damage and a broken neck in a motorcycle accident, said the goal was to create an opportunity for an assault or robbery, but no one took the bait.
“Every single deployment, multiple people — and these are people that we know the profiles of, we know their criminal histories, we know where they’re at — they still wouldn’t stoop so low as to rob somebody who was that vulnerable,” Horsley said. “They did nothing but express care and concern and compassion.”
During his 300 interactions with the public, Horsley was asked if he had someone to care for him and a place to go, and if he was hungry.
Though he didn’t ask for it, many people gave him food and money.
To tempt potential thieves, Horsley carried an iPad, a camera and a fanny pack with money sticking out of it, which several people warned him to secure and one man even zipped up for him.
Insp. Howard Chow said that while the project didn’t lead to any arrests, it highlighted “the caring and the compassion and the overwhelmingly strong sense of community that exists in the Downtown Eastside.”
Chow said even when Horsley asked for help while bartering with area residents, no one shortchanged the undercover officer.
“In fact, at the end of it we were $24 ahead of when we started,” Chow said.
Walt Lawrence, a peer support worker who has used a wheelchair since a diving injury decades ago, helped Horsley prepare for the operation. Lawrence said the treatment Horsley received represents his own experience as someone with a disability.
“It’s amazing just how kind and how helpful people can be,” he said.
Chow said catching the person or people responsible for the 28 offences remains a priority for police.