The Vancouver Police Department: 125 Years of Innovation
From its humble beginnings as a one-man operation in 1886, to its current strength of more than 1,700 civilian and sworn members, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has long maintained a tradition of dedication to service "Beyond the Call," and working to make Vancouver the safest community in Canada.
The seeds of the VPD's commitment to that principle were sown at Vancouver's first city council meeting, on May 10, 1886, when night watchman John Stewart was offered the honour of serving as the city's first police chief. He was on duty a month later when a blaze now remembered as the Great Fire of 1886 destroyed the newly incorporated city. Stewart was soon joined by Jackson Abray, V.W. Haywood, and John McLaren, to form the fledgling Vancouver Police Department. The men worked from a tent at the foot of Carrall St. as Vancouver was rebuilt from ashes. The VPD's history and the city’s have been linked ever since.
Vancouver and its police department both grew quickly and became known for a series of firsts. By 1904, the force was 31 men strong. The Mounted Squad was formed in 1910 and a year later the VPD formed the country's first Marine Squad. The Department saw another "first" in 1912 when Vancouver became the first city in Canada – and third in the world - to hire female officers. The VPD became the nation's second unionized police force in 1912, and in 1914 formed Canada's first police pipe band. The traffic division was formed in 1922 and the VPD continued to grow with the founding of the Motorcycle Drill Team and Dog Squad in the 1950s.
By the late 1940s, after the amalgamation of the Point Grey and South Vancouver departments, the force's active strength numbered 540. Today, there are more than double that many men and women serving in three divisions, Operations, Investigations and Support Services, reporting to Chief Constable Jim Chu. Today's Vancouver Police Department continues the tradition of going above and beyond and pursuing innovative approaches to policing, training and crime prevention.
The Vancouver Police Department is a diverse organization that mirrors the many communities that make up the population of Vancouver. And today's Vancouver Police Department still routinely goes beyond the call.
- composed by The Vancouver Police Museum
1886 – Vancouver's First Chief Constable is Appointed
On May 10, 1886, at the first meeting of Vancouver City Council, John Stewart was appointed Chief Constable and became the first (and for a time the only) policeman in Vancouver.
It is reported that the morning after the Great Fire of Vancouver, June 13, 1886, Mayor McLean was standing on Water Street – which at that time was on the shore of Burrard Inlet – and saw whiskey barrels floating in the water. He saw Jackson Abray standing nearby, who had found his small store totally destroyed by the fire. The Mayor turned to Abray and said, "I am swearing you in as constable. Your first duty is to retrieve those barrels." Abray did so and spent the next four years as a policeman.
Two others, V.W. Haywood and John McLaren, it seems, were appointed under similar circumstances. And so Chief Stewart had a police force.
Uniforms were ordered from Seattle and the four police officers posed in front of the tent situated at the foot of Carrall Street.
In 1890, Chief Stewart, tired of having to explain each year why the crime rate kept increasing, decided that he had had enough. He resigned and the job was given to John McLaren.
By 1904, the Force had grown to 31 members and moved into a new police building in the 200 Cordova at Main Street.
In 1906 call boxes were installed in the city at the extravagant expense of $7,785.
In 1907, the city had more than tripled. A growing Asian population led to race riots in what was known as ‘Chinatown' and ‘Japtown'. The Police Chief gathered reinforcements from the Fire Department and quelled the riot. Tensions were high after, but with true Vancouver luck, rainfall kept everyone inside.
1912 – Vancouver's First Female Police Constables Hired
On July 8, 1912, Vancouver's first two women police constables were hired. They acted as matrons in the jail, escorted women prisoners and made regular patrols of pool halls, cabarets, dances and other places where young people congregated.
1915 – Pipe Band Forms
In 1915, 16 policemen met and formed the VPD Pipe Band, the third such in the world with the only other two in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Public Order Riots Through the Years
Public Order riots are chronicled throughout our history:
- the Hungry Thirties riots by the unemployed
- in the 1960s, the Grey Cup riot, Gastown riot and Rolling Stones riot
- the 1994 Stanley Cup riot
- the 2011 Stanley Cut riot
Post War Growth of the VPD
In the post war 1940s, Chief Walter Mulligan obtained an increase in the Force to 570 members. The Union negotiated down to a 44 hour work week, which was later lowered to 40 hours in 1948.
In 1951, a formalized Auxiliary police was set up.
Plans for the 312 Main Street building started in 1953 and mounted patrols resumed in Stanley Park. VPD Headquarters moved to 2120 Cambie Street in 1994, with many sections still working out of the aging Main Street building. The 312 Main Street building will close in Spring 2011.
The Department began moving staff into 3585 Graveley Street in November 2010, with the VPD now split between two main buildings.