Vancouver Blue: A Life Against Crime
September 8, 2015
Review By Bonnie Reilly Schmidt
Wayne Cope joined the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) in 1975, the fulfillment of a childhood dream to be a police officer. Like most police memoirs, Cope’s is filled with anecdotal stories, some humorous and some sad, acquired during his thirty years in the force. Stories about filling traffic ticket quotas (44), playing “Jailhouse Jeopardy” (127), and buying the best dog food available for his canine partner Wolfe (91), make for entertaining reading for a popular audience.
Cope’s personality dominates the narrative and the events he describes. His self-proclaimed “signature move” as a police officer was to bring his personal weapons to work where he could “play with them.” During one shift, Cope, an avid hunter, decided to bring his compound bow to the office where he fired it in the hallway leading to the kitchen jail. The arrow narrowly missed him as it rebounded off the target wall and back towards him (126-27). While foolhardy, this example demonstrates Cope’s gunslinger approach to police work and the lasting influence of watching Gunsmoke on television as a child (14-15).
In the narrative, Cope relies on generalizations that dehumanize others. While a distraction in the text, this practice is a coping mechanism that many police officers adopt to relieve stress. Those who break the law are called “scrotes” (short for scrotum) (19, 127), “worthless scum” (19), and “jailhouse rats” (39) and members of the public are referred to as “idiots” (80). Cope is unapologetic for these characterizations, explaining that when writing tickets he left “the humans [regular taxpayers] alone.” It was the drunks, criminals, and gangsters who received tickets, a personal “rule” he followed for “more than thirty-four years of policing” (45).
Further, some of Cope’s fellow police officers are referred to as “peasants” (149), “lazy, stupid, incompetent” (77) and, in the case of one competitor for the same promotion, a “drunken little malingerer” (118). Indeed, Cope devotes one section of chapter seven to what he terms “The Idiot Factor” in the VPD (77-79), a critique that does little to instill confidence in Vancouver’s police force. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are also singled out for criticism. They are described as “incapable” of municipal policing and of no benefit to local communities because of their federal policing model (215-217).
The more interesting part of the book comes at the end and Cope’s description of his work with the VPD’s Historical Homicide Unit, particularly his work in successfully solving Vancouver’s 1980 “Centrefold Murders” (174-198). Cope’s detailed discussion of the case provides insight into how the police investigate and solve serious crimes. It is here that readers gain a real sense of Cope’s skills as an investigator. The importance of preserving physical evidence and the use of modern scientific tools such as DNA testing to solve decades-old crimes, make for the most engaging reading (206, 212).
Interestingly, Cope does not discuss in any detail the VPD’s handling of Vancouver’s murdered and missing women file. This may be because his involvement was limited to interviewing the suspect’s friends in 2002 (185-186). Nevertheless, Cope avoids any discussion surrounding the politics behind the case, the VPD’s handling of the investigation, or the public outcry that ensued. Readers hoping to gain insight into one of Canada’s most horrific mass murder investigations will be disappointed by this omission.
Cope ends his book with “Enigmatic,” a challenge to readers to solve a code he has devised. Budding cryptographers are encouraged to email their answers to Cope, who will award the first person to break the code with a five-dollar silver maple leaf coin. It is an unusual close to a memoir about law enforcement in the City of Vancouver.
Vancouver Blue: A Life Against Crime
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2015. 224 pp. $24.95 paper