The Vancouver Police Department has more opportunity to influence changes to crime-related policy in Canada than it has ever had in its history.
The announcement Sept. 6 that Police Chief Jim Chu was elected president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is not the only reason.
Tom Stamatakis, the longtime president of the Vancouver Police Union, has been the president of the Canadian Police Association since April 2011.
"The new centre of the universe," Chu joked in an interview by telephone before explaining the significance of the leadership roles. "I hope that it's a recognition that Vancouver police have a reputation as a progressive organization with good ideas to contribute."
The associations are the most powerful of their kind in the country's policing circles. Both actively lobby federal politicians to get changes made to the Criminal Code of Canada and influence new legislation.
The pairing of Chu and Stamatakis is unprecedented for Vancouver, which has unique crime problems related to drugs, criminals fleeing warrants from other provinces and questionable sentences for chronic offenders.
Recently, the VPD went public with its desire to have the government impose rules for telecommunications providers to dissuade the reactivation of stolen cellphones.
"We can only do so much locally," the chief said of the rampant problem. "Being in my position [as president], I get a better chance to influence those issues."
Stamatakis and his association, which represents 55,000 members, has pushed for tougher sentencing of criminals. Last year, the federal government introduced Bill-C10, an omnibus bill that includes increases to mandatory minimum sentences.
In 2008, the VPD released a report that examined the city's so-called "chronic offenders" and their sentences. Of 75 sentences given to criminals with an average of 17 previous convictions, only four per cent received sentences of two years or longer.
As presidents of their associations, Stamatakis and Chu have the ear of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, although Chu has met with them in his role as chief.
The role of an association president can mean standing shoulder to shoulder with politicians when making announcements, as Stamatakis did when the Conservative government announced the introduction of Bill C-10.
Chu already has experience in this area, having attended press conferences with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, provincial ministers and Mayor Gregor Robertson.
"When governments bring in legislation or policies that we support, I think it's up to us to say that we support them," said the chief, whose association represents about 1,000 police leaders. "I'm not a politician but there is a role for advocacy, there is a role for shining the light on issues. If that can help affect change in a positive way to improve public safety, then I think there is a role for police to do that."
A benefit to having both national presidents in Vancouver also means less travel time for Stamatakis and Chu when a matter arises that needs to be addressed face to face.
Stamatakis' office is in the Downtown Eastside and the chief operates out of the VPD's Cambie Street headquarters.
"It's a lot easier to get together," said Stamatakis, noting the previous president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police was from Prince Albert, Sask.