Meet Steve Rai, Deputy Chief of the Vancouver Police Department

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Deputy Chief Steve Rai Photo: Ray Hudson
Deputy Chief Steve Rai, talks about his role in one of Canada’s premier police agencies. Photo: Ray Hudson
Deputy Chief Steve Rai, talks about his role in one of Canada’s premier police agencies.
Photo: Ray Hudson

by Ray Hudson

Vancouver: Last week we met Adam Palmer, Vancouver’s Police. This week, in part two of the series, we meet Deputy Chief Steve Rai.

Asian Journal: What motivated you to become a police officer and what gets you up each day to come to work?

Steve Rai: As a teenager, you go through that career search in high school and they line you up on those computer programs to help you choose. I grew up in Kitsilano, playing sports at the secondary school level, but even though I was looking for a career, at that age you don’t really know what you want to do. But I knew I liked team sports and that type of environment where there was a lot of camaraderie and common purpose. My school liaison (police) officers were a big influence on me, in fact, some of them were my coaches. I was walking down the hallway after one of these guidance classes where I’d done one of those career choice programs, and it occurred to me, ‘why not policing?’ Whenever I heard a siren, I would run down to the corner to see what was happening, but never thought I could be doing that. Then, when I was about sixteen, I thought, “I can do that”. I did have an interest in becoming a pilot, and for a while these careers were neck and neck, but right after I came out of university, I chose policing and I never looked back.

It’s been everything I thought it would be, and there have been so many mini careers in the twenty-five years. I’d do a job for two to three years, then something else would come along and I’d step up for it. When I look back, I wonder how I got through it. I literally remember the day I was sworn in and the staff sergeant saying, “enjoy your career, the time will go so quickly.” I still remember thinking ‘aw come on, thirty years is going to go slowly’ but here I am twenty-five years later, and it’s gone by in a flash. What’s more, I’d be proud if my kids came into policing.

As far as highlights for me, I was in recruiting for a number of years, as the investigator, the sergeant, and the inspector in charge. Now I’ve been promoted to Deputy Chief, which includes recruiting as one of my portfolios. So far, I’ve probably signed-off on five or six hundred current police officers. If I’m walking down the hall and see four constables, I can say I will have had a hand in at least three of them. I’ve had a direct hand in selecting the personalities for the proper fit in shaping the department. I believe there’s nothing more important for the force than the candidate you select right at the start because it impacts the public as well as the department.

My second highlight was being the North Commander for policing the Stanley Cup riot. I had started working in public order about seven or eight years prior, and I had done both the Olympics and Occupy protests. In fact the guy who talked me into signing up for public order was the police chief. He told me I would enjoy it. On the night of the riot, I was down at ground zero where the first car was rolled over, standing down there with all the gear on and it’s total chaos. I could see tires burning and people jumping and throwing rocks at us yelling ‘kill the pigs’ and I was thinking of what the chief had told me, and asking myself how’d I get into this mess? It was totally surreal, but what I was proud of in that moment, was gathering my senses, starting the decision-making, executing the plans according to training and controlling my mental and personal anxieties. You’re right in the thick of it, the biggest event in Vancouver’s history after the ’94 riot. I was proud that we got control of the city in three hours and twenty minutes with no injuries. I don’t think we even had a professional standards complaint. When you look at other places that handle that kind of situation, and having been one of the commanders of this situation, you realize it’s experience you can’t buy.

That night our greatest fear was that a police officer, or a member of the public might get hurt because we didn’t do something fast enough, it’s a big responsibility. That night the crowd was so thick we just couldn’t move through it   And then the looting started. We heard some people were in the Hudson’s Bay and they’re burning stuff, and even just a block away I can’t get through this crowd. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances, but I am proud of the way we responded. It could have been a complete disaster, but to see all the officers, all the squad leaders, the mounted unit, all the way up the rank and the way everybody come together as they did. It was quite satisfying.

Another highlight for me was coming up the ranks with certain people. Adam (The Chief) and I worked side by side for a few years, and although we were each in different teams, we always overlapped every night. So you work with all these people. You’re standing in an alley twenty-five years ago and you’re shooting the breeze after chasing somebody down, and twenty-five years later you’re all still around, still working together and still talking, only maybe it’s about policy.

AJ: What is the thing you have yet to achieve in your career?

SR: I want to see the new chief be successful and I want to ensure that at this level, the chief and the whole executive team can build on the legacy of Jim Chiu, one of the best chiefs we’ve had. That’s my macro goal, I’m now part of the team steering this organization and for me, failure is not an option.

Next Week: We get into the nitty gritty of the force and how they police one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada; discussing the decades-old question of a Metro Police Force in place of the current multi-jurisdictional model in the Lower Mainland, and how the VPD plan to deal with the growing crisis of policing the mentally ill.