A police officer who posed as a disabled man to catch thieves plaguing Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside was hit with unexpected kindness and compassion instead.

Police launched the undercover assignment last spring after a string of attacks and robberies against people in wheelchairs.

More than half of the crimes occurred in the city's Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood known for its large homeless population, street drugs, crime and prostitution.

For five days, Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley wheeled through the neighbourhood in a wheelchair. He told people he had a brain injury and couldn't count and wore a waist wallet with money spilling out.

Expecting to encounter street thieves, Horsley, a 30-year police veteran, instead met men and women who looked out for him, gave him money and even prayed for him.

'Community has soul'

No one tried to rob him or short change him during transactions.

"Not one person took advantage of my vulnerability," Horsley told a news conference Thursday.

"This community has soul."

Police released a video of Horsley's interactions with people in the Downtown Eastside during his assignment.

Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley

Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley, who posed as a disabled man in the Downtown Eastside, admitted he was anxious the first day of his assignment.

During one filmed encounter, a young man bends over and closes the zipper of Horsley's money pouch, warning him to be careful. Another man asked permission to pray for him to heal.

"The generosity, the caring was inspiring," Horsley said.

In the end, the operation didn't net any arrests, but Insp. Howard Chow said the exercise wasn't a failure, because Horsley's experience provided a lesson police could share with residents.

Horsley agreed, saying he learned from the people he encountered on his assignment.

"The people of the downtown are watching. They care and they take care of their vulnerable people."
 

With files from Megan Batchelor