Published Mar 01, 2003Stop me if you've heard this one before. Two rockers go to a riot and a Guns n' Roses concert breaks out. Or in this case, gets cancelled. When Guns n' Roses singer Axl Rose no-showed his Vancouver concert on November 7, 2002, it was all but preordained that it would end in chaos for the estimated 8,000 fans in attendance. With the Guns n' Roses Montreal riot of the early '90s still lingering in the air, a case could be made for Gn'R riots becoming Canada's new national pastime. But if you were one of the numerous people who went on this fun little smashy, smashy spree, smile, you may be famous. And wanted for questioning.
To help track down the numerous perpetrators of the Vancouver Guns n' Roses riot at GM Place, the Vancouver Police Department has set up the Vancouver Police Riot Investigation web site (www.vpdriotinvest.ca), one of the first interactive sites of its kind, and appealed to the community for help in identifying its participants. Video footage and still photos of rioters are posted on the site, listed as "persons of interest" with a TIPS-style phone number and email address to identify suspects. And despite the Goodfellas code of "always keep your mouth shut and never rat on your friends," it's working.
"When we initially launched the web site on January 21, that first week we received 12,000 hits a day," according to Detective Constable Randy Regush of the Vancouver Police Department. "As a result, we've received approximately 80 to 100 tips. From there we went and confirmed whether or not the individual was in fact one of the parties [responsible]. We've done that with a number of them and we've submitted nine charges and have another 18 investigations underway, with 20 [suspects] who we don't have any information on."
Not only does the site have pictures of the most extreme fashion "don'ts" you will ever see (so much denim, so many mullets, so much destruction), it also comes complete with video footage of the perpetrators destroying the venue, a rampage that caused roughly $350,000 in damages and destroyed 65 four-foot by eight-foot plate glass windows.
"What we had done was gather all the information, executed five search warrants on several of the news agencies here and obtained video footage, digital footage and stills, which we then turned over to our forensic video expert, and that's how we came to this two-way web site," explains Ragush. "What you see are the images of people involved in unlawful assembly and mischief." And the site has been incredibly successful. "Without the internet technology we would have had a hard time finding everyone, we'd have had to use other forms of investigation to come to the same conclusions when this is a lot faster."
But while the site is designed to bring the perpetrators of the riot to justice, it's had the unintentional side effect/benefit of being one of the most entertaining "reality" mediums around, gaining a strong cult internet following of people who like watching stupid people do stupid shit. With the reality TV craze featuring the most unreal plastic people on the planet doing some of the most mundane day to day minutia possible, it's no wonder that internet denizens have embraced this lowest common denominator reality. It's real people really breaking the law. It's America's Most Wanted without the re-enactments, Cops without the police escort, Heavy Metal Parking Lot with crime. Just don't expect this "reality" hit to last.
"Once we find out who the individual is and the identity is confirmed, that individual is taken off right away," says Ragush. From the initial 47 suspects, 39 remain. "That's one area we're vigilante about. Nobody likes to see themselves on a web page, even if they're committing a criminal offence." Despite the Orwellian aspects of the site, look for this trend to continue in law enforcement and possibly be expanded. "We have to use the technology that's out there and the internet technology is getting better every day," asserts Ragush. "We hope that in the future we can assist with other investigations: sexual assault suspects, bank robbers, robbery suspects, that sort of stuff." Of course, who knows what's next, maybe one day soon the spam porn in your email box will be replaced by electronic wanted posters, maybe even of you or someone you know. But for now, just to be safe, don't go to any Guns n' Roses concerts.