When Staff Sergeant Mark Horsley went deep undercover in Vancouver, he hoped that the operation would lead to arrests. What he wasn’t expecting, though, was a result that would change the way he looked at people forever.
The sting operation came following a series of robberies and attacks on members of the disabled community. People were being beaten up and mugged as they sat in their wheelchairs, unable to escape from their heartless assailants.
And the incidents grew in number as the months rolled by, with increasingly severe crimes also recorded. At the time that Staff Sergeant Horsley went undercover, in fact, there had already been 28 offenses in a little over a year. During those, one victim had been sexually assaulted, while six more had needed medical treatment. So the police knew that something had to be done.
As a result, Staff Sergeant Horsley decided it was time to take to the streets. He came up with a plan in which he would pose as a disabled man in a wheelchair on the streets of Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside district.
The goal of the operation was to attract would-be criminals to try to rob the apparently wheelchair-bound Horsley. The cop would carry a hefty display of valuables during the sting in a bid to entice potential felons. Then he would spring into action and help put the bad guys behind bars.
In the run-up to the undercover investigation, Horsley borrowed a wheelchair to fit into the part. The cop also grew a beard and changed his speech in a bid to disguise his identity while on patrol.
The only thing missing was a code name for the sting – but Horsley wasn’t the best man for that job, at least. “I’m not good with that sort of thing,” he told the National Post in July 2015. Consequently, the operation was simply – if unimaginatively – dubbed “the undercover wheelchair program.”
Speaking about the operation, he explained to the National Post, “My boss tied a pork chop around my neck and threw me into a shark tank.” Despite their preparations, however, the scheme quickly ran into trouble.
“We wanted a serious assault or a robbery,” Horsley told the National Post. “That’s all we were after.” But instead of harming Horsley, the people of the tough neighborhood actually gave him a helping hand as he sat in his wheelchair. They offered hope and sympathy, and even food and cash, to the undercover cop.
Indeed, although Horsley would spend five days flaunting cash and valuables from an unzipped fanny pack, nobody attempted to steal any of his belongings. Instead they gave him charity, dropping coins in his lap and offering him pizza. At least one passerby even stopped to take a photograph with the man.
At one point during the operation, however, Horsley thought that he had finally found a crook when a man made a move for his open fanny pack. He therefore got ready to jump into action – only to find that the stranger was attempting to close the open bag. He even told Horsley that he should take more care.
In a surprising twist, even criminals known to the police approached Horsley as he sat in his wheelchair. Yet it was not to rob him – but to warn him that he should be careful with his belongings.
Moreover, in a video clip documenting the undercover operation, a man can be seen asking the Staff Sergeant if he may pray for his health. It also depicts another well-wisher telling Horsley about how he cared for his mother, who also used a wheelchair.
Horsley was left feeling disappointed after it emerged that the carefully planned operation had yielded no results. After all, he and other officers had scoped out the neighborhood beforehand in the hope of catching lowlives.
But he would go on to say that the community’s reaction was down to a local code of honor held even among thieves. Robbing the disabled was “below their ethical standards,” he told the National Post. “The community will not stand for this.” The operation ran from the end of one month to the start of another before Horsley called it a day.
In fact, people were so generous that Horsley actually managed to make a $24 profit while on the streets. Speaking about the results, the officer said that they were “inspiring.” As he told the Daily Mail in July 2015, “The community accepted me very quickly as one of theirs. In this project I had an opportunity to experience downtown Vancouver from a different perspective.”
He added, “The caring and compassion expressed to me in my undercover role was inspiring. This community has soul.” Despite the operation’s inability to catch any actual thieves, though, Inspector Howard Chow denied that the sting had been a failure. Instead, he insisted that it would deter thieves from stealing from a disabled person amid fears that their target could be a police officer.
Speaking about the operation, Chow told the National Post, “I wish we would have collared one of those predators.” But it wasn’t all bad news for the police department. “At the end of it, we were $24 ahead of when we started,” he added.
Meanwhile, Horsley issued a warning to would-be crooks intent on targeting the disabled. “Victimizing the vulnerable is far beneath the people,” he told the Daily Mail. “For the very rare and despicable person who is willing to victimize the vulnerable people, you should know the police are watching – but, more importantly, the people are watching.”
And if the results of this investigation show anything, it is that good-hearted people are everywhere. Indeed, Mark Horsley found out that you should never judge a book by its cover – something of which we should all take heed.