B.C. solicitor general open to expanding role of civilian unit overseeing police

October 08, 2010
Oct 06 2010 VANCOUVER - British Columbia's solicitor general is pleased with what he calls an about-face from police when it comes to investigating their own.

Oct 06 2010

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's solicitor general is pleased with what he calls an about-face from police when it comes to investigating their own.

Mike de Jong says there has been an "historic reluctance" from police to allow independent oversight of such investigations and the call from Vancouver's police chief to change that policy is refreshing.

On Wednesday, Chief Jim Chu suggested the proposed independent investigation office be expanded so that it eliminates the perception of bias and makes financial sense.

While the so-called IIO is being set up to investigate in-custody deaths or police cases involving serious injury, Chu said it should handle all complaints against officers.

De Jong said Chu's suggestion is worth considering.

"The further we go along the path of an independent authority, ultimately the greater confidence there will be," he said.

The new unit is being created in response to the Braidwood Commission, which investigated the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport.

The Braidwood Commission recommended a civilian-based agency handle investigations involving police.

De Jong said Chu may also have been reacting to the public's ongoing comments about the need for absolute independence in both the police complaints and investigation process.

Under the current plan, Chu said the proposed unit would only investigate an average of four incidents at Vancouver's department each year.

"Expanding the mandate of the proposed independent investigation office would not only improve public confidence in the investigation of allegations against police officers, it would allow every police agency to concentrate more police officers on investigation crime," Chu said.

Because of changes in the Police Act, Vancouver's professional standards unit, which investigates complaints against police, has expanded to a 22-person team.

Chu said for all of last year police had 241 complaints, but by mid-July this year that number had already been surpassed.

"At the rate it's going it's going to be double. So there are more complaints that are admissible under the new Police Act."

The added manpower has cost the detachment an extra $800,000 this year, a 46 per cent increase, Chu said.

The solicitor general plans to draft legislation this spring for the new unit and said perhaps the legislation could be left flexible enough to expand its investigative powers, if that's what police want.

De Jong said other police departments would still need to be consulted. The unit would also include oversight for the RCMP, which polices about three quarters of the province.

Port Moody Chief Const. Brad Parker, who's also the president of the B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police, said the issue is an agenda item when chiefs meet in the next week.

"There are some differing thoughts on it from the chiefs in relations to the scope of what they call the IIO," he said, but wouldn't say more until the chiefs had gathered.

The Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, a civilian oversight body, currently investigates public complaints against officers in B.C.'s independent police forces.

Instead of eliminating the commissioner's role, de Jong suggested it could be blended with the IIO.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is also chairman of the police board, agreed with Chu, saying all complaints should be investigated by civilians.

"As long as police continue to investigate police, no matter what the incident, there will always be a public perception of bias," Robertson said in a news release.

Chu noted that the added advantage of having the independent office investigating all complaints is that its investigators would develop more experience and expertise by looking at a wider range of incidents.

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