Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Feb. 17, 2012)

Digital Bloopers

By Bob Cooper


The federal government’s proposed cyber-surveillance bill was upstaged in the news this morning, ironically by the announcement that members of the Vancouver Police were facing discipline for, as the Brits would say, looking at naughty things.  A statement from Chief Jim Chu claiming that “we believe it is in the public interest to be as open as possible about it” was rushed out only after the investigation was revealed last night by internet columnist Alex Tsakumis.  Some find Mr. Tsakumis’ writing style a bit over the top but his information is usually right on the money and a lot of cops follow his blog.

Now stop the snickering and let’s put a few things in perspective here.  No one was taking bribes, selling secrets, stealing from the drug exhibit locker, or pulling B&Es on the midnight shift.  Apart from some embarrassment (and possible risk of blindness), as far as harm goes, it’s pretty much on the low end of the scale.  An exhaustive examination of e-mail traffic over several months revealed that a total of 15 people (14 cops and 1 civilian employee) were found in breach of policy.  Out of a total of 1,716 employees (sworn & civilian) this amounts to .8%.  I can think of quite a few police departments that would be very envious and wish that was all they had to worry about.

The value of naughty material as a motivational teaching aid shouldn’t be overlooked either.  I was around for the computerization of the Department beginning in the late 90s.  Prior to that we hand wrote our reports while the real tech-savvy guys used the manual typewriters in the Booking-Off Room.  While the younger cops were well-versed in computers, us 3 digit dinosaurs were quite another story.  They sent us to course after course after course with teachers on the verge of tears trying to get through to a classroom full of old ‘pencil and foolscap’ detectives all displaying the same blank looks.  I spent an entire day at a Windows Course learning new things before the instructor realized I’d already taken the course the previous month.  Then someone discovered an entirely different dimension to these complex devices and within days everyone was whizzing around cyberspace faster than the average Asian 6 year old.  One day when we were all in the Inspector’s office being yelled at about a video titled “Boobie Car Wash” plus a site called ‘H’, I was tempted to point out that if it wasn’t for naughty stuff most of us wouldn’t know how to send an e-mail but I thought better of it.

Predictably, some media outlets sought comment from lawyer and conspiracy buff Cameron Ward who blamed the “macho, paramilitary police culture”.  Perhaps when one of his clients is breaking into his house at 3 AM they’ll send a politically correct sissy to help him out.  For those who don’t know Mr. Ward, not a sparrow falls from the sky that it isn’t somehow the fault of the Vancouver Police.   I’m surprised he didn’t seize on the fact that all the offenders were men and question the VPD’s commitment to gender equity.  

The Department won’t confirm it but this whole thing resulted from a witch hunt to identify a whistleblower after the Stanley Cup Riot, providing some valuable lessons on the unintended consequences that sometimes flow from opening Pandora’s Box which will henceforth be known as Pandora’s Trunk in all Departmental correspondence.



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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