The Marine Unit provides policing services for the communities that call the waters of Vancouver home. Being the largest port in Canada with nearly 100 miles of shoreline, the area of responsibility is vast and diverse. The Unit is responsible for the policing and public safety for the Port of Vancouver, the commercial shipping industry, 26 marinas, and all recreational vessels, including rental boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.
As the only full-time dedicated Marine Unit in Metro Vancouver, the officers often get calls to assist other agencies, as well as other VPD specialty units. When there are large events, like the Celebration of Light or paddling regattas, they are on hand, helping to ensure everyone stays safe on the water.
“We help keep recreational boaters safe by checking for Transport Canada boating safety requirements and looking for impaired boat operators, as well as investigate boat thefts,” says Constable Ben Wong-Moon. “We also support the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre with animal rescue and releases, and provide safe passage for cruise ships and other extra-large vessels in our harbour.”
Wong-Moon joined the VPD in 2003, and he has spent the last year in the Marine Unit. “Operating a boat was completely new to me before I showed interest in the Marine Unit. It took me a few years of training to become a reserve constable with the Unit before I was successful in getting on full-time.”
After a 20-year career that has included working in Patrol, on the Emergency Response Team, and in Recruiting, Wong-Moon says his years as a school liaison officer were the most personally meaningful and fulfilling. He is, however, more than happy to finish his career in the Marine Unit.
“I love being on the water. I love every day being different. I love the challenges that arise and the opportunity to solve problems. Mostly, I love helping people.”
When people think about a career in policing and the type of work that it entails, they probably don’t see themselves riding trails on horseback in the 1000-acre urban forest of Stanley Park. The horses and their riders may be popular while on patrol or at community and ceremonial events, but they are also a very important part of policing in a big city.
When it comes to managing crowds at large events and demonstrations or public disorder incidents, specially trained horses and riders can wade through and disperse groups. With the height advantage, they are highly visible and offer the officers a better vantage to view the crowd. The horses can easily reach places cars cannot, such as remote areas, beaches and trails.
Constable Maria Irving first came to the VPD as a cadet in the Aboriginal Cadet Program, and was introduced to many of the specialty units of the Department, including the Mounted Unit. She has spent the last five years of her 15-year career on horseback.
“I was a natural fit for the Mounted Unit,” she says. “I grew up in the small town of Merritt, a ranching community, and I rode horses recreationally and for work as a dude wrangler.”
Her work at the VPD has been varied, from Patrol to Property Crime, Public Affairs, and as a crisis negotiator. “But the Mounted Unit was one of the reasons I chose to come to VPD over other departments, so I was happy to make that happen.”
In movies and televisions shows, it is often the Emergency Response Team (ERT) that comes to the rescue in extremely perilous situations – rappelling off buildings, rescuing hostages, and disarming dangerous criminals. In real life, that is often the case, as well.
VPD ERT members use specialized training, equipment, tactics, and negotiation strategies to safely resolve high-risk incidents, and ensure that they are prepared for whatever comes their way.
Constable Frank Aquino is the longest-serving constable in ERT – for 16 out of his 26 years with the VPD. He served as a Canadian Army Reserve and was part of a UN deployment to the former Yugoslavia prior to becoming a VPD officer.
Even with a multitude of exciting, challenging, and rewarding experiences as an ERT member, Aquino’s most memorable moment as a police officer came during his time as a School Liaison officer.
“I had a conversation with a kid who lost someone just before they joined our Student Challenge, which is an eight-day mini police academy for local high school students,” he says. “I was in the same situation, and while I was talking to them, I felt like I was also talking to myself. It was a very emotional experience for both of us and I think we each learned something that helped us heal from the experience.
“You frequently compartmentalize trauma in this job to accomplish the mission – it’s a normal coping mechanism for first responders. The decompression from those incidents doesn’t normally happen at work, but in this case it gave me some perspective on both our situations.”
While Aquino loves having the freedom to pursue the challenges of his work, he works hard to find a balance between work and family.
“I’ve always heard that becoming a first responder is a calling, similar to the responsibilities as a parent,” he says. “You feel a tremendous responsibility, which is challenging and rewarding at the same time.”
Officers who come to the VPD Forensic Identification Unit (FIU) spend their first two years as an understudy. They learn how to collect, examine, identify, and preserve evidence – from fingerprints to footwear, to photography and video, to firearms, to DNA and tool marks. They work at crime scenes throughout the city, and in a forensic examination area, investigating crimes that range from property offences to homicides. They often provide crucial evidence in court as expert witnesses.
Constable Amy Harris joined FIU in 2015. Her career at the VPD started in 2008, which included working in the Vancouver Jail as a jail guard. One year later, she became a VPD officer. Prior to policing, Harris completed her associate of arts in criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and worked in the service industry.
Harris describes herself as a “people person” and a good problem-solver. “I grew up moving across the country, always having to make new friends and connections,” she says. “I loved playing team sports and martial arts. After gaining exposure to policing through volunteering, I knew I wanted a career helping people.”
As a forensic investigator, Harris has learned that investigations can be lengthy and occur in less than ideal work environments.
“It’s been challenging, but always interesting,” she says. “I’ve had to analyze homicide scenes, intricate drug labs, search hidden compartments in crime vehicles, and spend days on-end processing items of evidence in time-sensitive investigations. An entire investigation can potentially rely on one piece of evidence. It’s so rewarding to find that piece of evidence.”
Constable Trevor LeTourneau is a Neighbourhood Police Officer, who spends his workday in the community helping solve local issues. He works out of the Granville Community Policing Centre, travelling through the downtown core on his police bicycle, building relationships with shop owners and employees, local residents and visitors, and with people who are homeless, drug-dependant, or suffering from mental health issues.
“I find that when I am on the bike I have way more conversations with people than I do when I am walking or especially while driving in a police car,” he says.
LeTourneau regularly meets with community partners, such as outreach centres, mental health facilities, community centres, and shelters, trying to find solutions to issues in the neighbourhood.
After spending time as a professional photographer, LeTourneau joined the VPD in 2006. After 10 years on patrol, he worked for five years as a School Liaison Officer, before becoming a Neighbourhood Policing Officer.
“Even though it’s been a few years since I was in the schools, I still get calls and emails from students that I made connections with,” he says. “Some come to me for advice for things that have gone wrong in their lives, and others reach out because they want to become police officers. This week alone, two former students became police officers.”
Growing up in a small town, he fondly remembers two local police officers, one of whom coached him in sports and gave talks at his school.
“I wanted to be a police officer much like him,” he says. “I think my career has mirrored his career with the community involvement I have had.”
LeTourneau acknowledges it can be difficult seeing the negative effects that substance abuse and mental health have on people and not always having solutions.
“Both addiction and mental health issues affect almost every family, and there is just not enough support to assist them, but I believe that what we do as police officers really does help our vulnerable citizens.”
If there’s a murder, attempted murder, or even a conspiracy to commit murder, in Vancouver, VPD Homicide investigators are on the case. They also investigate any death if the cause is suspicious or unknown, or if there are suspicious circumstances in a missing person case.
Detective Constable Lawrence Lui has spent 12 of his 26 years with the VPD as a homicide investigator. Homicide investigations can be lengthy and complex, and his valuable past experience working in the Forensic Identification Unit, Sex Crimes, the VPD-RCMP Joint Missing Women’s Task Force, and in Patrol, have all contributed to his success in his present role.
“Surprisingly, I spend a lot of time behind a computer, writing and reviewing reports, managing and preparing files for disclosure,” says Lui. “Other hours in a typical day, I spend attending scenes, conducting interviews, canvassing neighbourhoods, obtaining warrants, reviewing video, working with Crown counsel, liaising with the Coroners Service, and getting help from specialized VPD support units.”
Lui often reflects on the cases he has worked on, many of which involved the elderly. He was an investigator in the homicides of Patricia Pelletier, who was murdered in 2010, Diana Mah-Jones and Richard Jones, who were killed in their home in 2017, and the manslaughter of 87-year-old Elizabeth Poulin, killed by someone who broke into her apartment while she was sleeping.
“I was able to work these last two cases from a very different perspective, as I was a Forensic Identification Unit understudy at the time,” he says. “Being directly involved in processing the crime scenes firsthand, rather than as a homicide detective, was extremely insightful.”
Lui has also seen that investigations can take a toll on the people involved.
“Every situation we see in Homicide always involves an incredible human tragedy. There is so much sorrow for the victim and their families. Sometimes it involves young children, which is especially difficult,” says Lui. “But the best part of our work is finding answers for the grieving families of those killed, and restoring a sense of safety back to our community.”
If you are the victim of online fraud, a phishing scam, a ransomware attack, or even hacking, it is the members of the VPD Cybercrime Unit who investigate.
“A large part of our role is to support other sections of the VPD with the cyber aspects of their investigations,” explains Constable Dermot O’Boyle. “It’s not unusual for me to work with Patrol officers in the morning, then with the Gang Unit or Homicide detectives in the afternoon. Sometimes, we just give advice, but other times we can provide an essential piece of knowledge that helps investigators solve their case.”
The Cybercrime Unit is also called on to locate people who are in crisis. “It’s all hands on deck in our office. We work with internet and social media companies to find the person and help them,” he says. “While this is always a high-pressure situation, it is extremely rewarding to know you played a role in getting someone the help they needed.”
O’Boyle has been with the VPD for almost 15 years, and spent his first seven years in Patrol before investigating cybercrime. He worked temporarily with the Gang Crime Unit, and as tech support for VPD negotiators. As a member of the Public Safety Unit, he received tactical training for major public order events, and was on the front line during the 2011 Stanley Cup riot.
Prior to policing, O’Boyle earned a master’s degree in information management, and worked as a programmer in London, New Zealand, and Vancouver.
“I always dreamt of being a police officer,” says O’Boyle. “When I settled in Vancouver, and gained my Permanent Residency, I jumped at the chance to join the VPD.”
He admits the work is not without challenges, many of them beyond an investigator’s control.
“The worst part of my job is when I discover a suspect is located in a foreign country where we have no ability to extradite or prosecute.”
One memorable incident that stands out for O’Boyle involved a number of bomb threats that were sent to schools and public areas in Vancouver.
“I worked with our School Liaison Unit and various police agencies in Ontario to locate a possible suspect, which led to an arrest, multiple charges, and ultimately a substantial conviction. It was a great example of a modern multi-jurisdictional cybercrime file and making a real impact on public safety.”