By Nelson Wyatt, The Associated Press
MONTREAL, CANADA (CP) -- The man in the red Ferrari jacket had been arrested
as an accomplice in the killing of a Montreal police officer. The
case was closed. But that jacket nagged at one of the members of the
new robbery-homicide squad.
"Who the hell is this guy -- I've seen that red jacket before," Cmdr.
Andre Bouchard remembers the case analyst saying.
A database check quickly revealed the man was known for more than
"Four armed robberies in Montreal and seven in Toronto," is what
Bouchard said the analyst found.
"He's in for a long time."
The merging of the old robbery and homicide sections into one unit
under the Montreal force's major crimes division is an innovative
measure that has helped the city ditch its old title as the armed
robbery capital of Canada.
It's given detectives the chance to bear down on organized crime and
make pioneering efforts such as putting all cases on more accessible
computer discs instead of being piled into boxes needing to be
dragged into court.
While other Canadian police forces have major crimes divisions,
Montreal is believed to be the only one with a combined
robbery-homicide unit. Other police forces, such as Laval, just north
of Montreal, are checking it out to consider adapting it to their own
The best known robbery-homicide division belongs to the Los Angeles
Police Department and it has been immortalized in such TV shows as
Dragnet. It has handled such high-profile investigations as the
gruesome Manson family murders, the O.J. Simpson case and the killing
of rapper Notorious B.I.G. since it started in 1969.
The LAPD unit has a similar mandate to the Montreal team, handling
high-profile, complicated homicides and major robberies as well as
sex crimes and cold cases, said Capt. Allan Michelena, the division
commander. Los Angeles, a city of about four million, had 506
homicides in 2003 and 16,455 robberies.
"The real advantage to having these types of divisions is you've got
to get your best people focused on these difficult crimes and give
them the resources they need so they can solve them," Michelena said
of the idea behind his unit of 65 detectives.
"They get the most complicated cases, the tough cases. The murders we
get aren't gimmes, they're always a tough murder."
Bouchard, who heads Montreal's major crimes division, said the city
closed out 2003 -- the combined unit's first year -- with about 100
armed robberies and 42 murders. There were 329 armed robberies and 55
murders in 2000 when he took over the unit, which has a solution rate
of between 70 and 80 per cent.
The decision to merge robbery and homicide detectives into one unit
is only one factor in the low numbers, Bouchard noted.
"Most of our robberies were done at the time by people who have a
problem with drugs -- crackheads, heroin addicts and things like
that," Bouchard said.
Many of them would be caught but were sent to rehabilitation centres
-- again -- when they were sentenced and often never showed up for
"We'd be arresting the same guy over and over again," Bouchard said.
The police devised a strategy with the courts where no guilty pleas
are allowed unless one of Bouchard's detectives is present to testify
on the accused's background, including their history in rehab.
If the accused has already been sentenced to rehab on the outside,
he'll get another chance -- "but he gets it behind bars." If it's his
first time and he skips treatment, the rehabilitation centre is
obliged to tell the Crown and an arrest warrant is issued.
Attacking the problem from that angle allowed Bouchard's detectives
to concentrate on things such as organized crime, which he said is
behind most of the city's armoured truck heists and smash-and-grab
"It gave us a chance to make bigger arrests," Bouchard said. "We've
got these organized crime guys in jail now for seven, eight years
plus we've diminished to almost nothing our narcotics guys doing
Bouchard credits the dip in murders in 2003 to the lack of a biker
war, the efficiency of ambulance and hospital trauma teams keeping
victims alive and cold weather at the beginning of last year.
"People weren't going out so we weren't getting the murders in the
clubs where a guy would look at another guy the wrong way then punch
him and he'd die," said the quick-talking Bouchard, who's been a cop
for more than 30 years.
With the decline in homicides and armed robberies, Bouchard said
police decided to refocus their efforts, especially with a new
federal DNA data bank starting that increased the likelihood of more
cold cases being solved.
Now Bouchard has detectives with expertise in robberies and homicides
working on the same team with a case analyst. L.A. does not mix its
detectives because the volume of crime requires its investigators to
be specific in their expertise, Michelena said.
The Montreal cold case squad, which is also part of the unit, also
has two members of the RCMP who work with the Montreal police to
polish their investigative skills because the federal force does not
investigate homicides or robberies in Quebec on its own.
"In a year-and-a-half, we've had 11 resolutions of old cases," Bouchard said.
Michelena echoed Bouchard's emphasis on the value of DNA, noting that
the Los Angeles detectives had just arrested a man in a 30-year-old
"He killed about five women that we're aware of and then he kind of
laid off," Michelena said. "We got him. He's 75 years old and now we
got him in jail but back in the '70s he was out on a little rampage."
Most members of the Montreal unit have about 15 years experience and
there is one woman in the unit. Bouchard considers her one of his
"She has a way about her," he said of the detective's ability to get
suspects to open up. "It's the way she speaks to people, the way she
connects. I don't know if it's eye contact -- whatever, it's great."
Bouchard noted that working homicide is one of the most stressful
jobs in the police department and the new organization has given
detectives more time with their families, cut overtime and eliminated
"It could be the most rewarding job when you bring a child back to
their parents who has been kidnapped -- we've done that. It could
also be a great job when 20 years later, you can advise a family that
the guy who killed their dad 20 years ago is in jail today. We didn't
"And yet it can be the worst of the worst when you have to knock on
the door at five o'clock in the morning and say that your 15-year-old
child was killed in a drive-by shooting and just have the mother fall
into your arms.
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
"We speak for the guy who's dead or the lady who's dead. They can't
speak for themselves."