West Van mayor blasts judge after prolific offender suspect released
A crack team of West Vancouver police investigators had pulled every open file and were putting in countless hours of overtime when they finally caught a break, nabbing one of their most wanted prolific offender suspects to date in an undercover sting in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Within hours they had their suspect before a judicial justice of the peace, asking he be held in custody to answer to a raft of at least 15 unsolved break-and-enter cases in West Vancouver alone.
But within minutes of his appearance before the justice the next morning, the suspect walked out of the police station, leaving West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith to rail against "some idiot judge" at a West Vancouver police board meeting later that same day.
West Vancouver deputy police chief Jim Almas broke the news of the suspect's catch and release at the monthly police board meeting chaired by the mayor on April 19.
Between March 25 and April 7, West Vancouver saw a rash of 30 break-ins and thefts from businesses, parking garages and residential storage lockers, according to Almas.
"We pretty much pulled every file and went over all the MOs [modi operandi] of the whole year and we actually identified a suspect for this," Almas told the police board.
Their suspect was a man with what Almas described as a "horrendous criminal record," thought to be responsible for at least three-quarters of West Van's most recent break-ins.
"And as our members were trying to surveil and trying to find him we had our forensics lift a print off one of the break-and-enters and it happened to be our suspect," Almas continued.
"And the good news is we arrested him last night."
But that's where the good news ended.
Arrested late on the night of April 18, police made their case to a justice of the peace the next morning to hold the suspect until Monday, April 23rd when North Vancouver provincial court would be back in session. However, the justice ordered the man released, likely on a promise-to-appear in court, according to West Vancouver police spokesman Staff Sgt. Jeff Young.
"It's something we're going to look into," Almas said, adding his team of investigators are angry the man was released after so much time and money were invested on cracking the case, only to "go back to square one."
Mayor Smith asked the police: "Is there anything this board can do in a case like this one where you do all this work and then the next morning some idiot judge just releases the guy and you're right back to square one?"
"This is the dance," West Vancouver police chief Peter Lepine replied, referring to what he said is the common problem of getting the police and courts to see eye-to-eye on non-violent prolific offender cases.
"As the governance of the police department," Lepine continued, "the concern the board has is with the costs associated with overtime for surveillance teams to constantly follow these prolific offenders only to be released again in what I call the 'catch-and-release program.'"
Lepine said he has routinely seen cases where a suspect will be released and followed out of court by West Van police, only to commit another crime and be rearrested and brought back before the same judge later that afternoon.
"We need to get out there and be advocates for an appropriate reform of the justice system," Lepine told the board.
Mayor Smith agreed, saying: "There is a disconnect between the community and the decisions being made by some of these judges."
The Office of the Chief Judge of B.C. declined to comment directly on the story and Justice Minister Shirley Bond's office did not respond to The Outlook's request for comment before press time.