COLUMN: Independent eye needed

Officer violence a huge concern for general public.

The Independent Investigations Office is looking into the shooting death of 20-year-old Hudson Brooks outside the South Surrey district RCMP office early in the morning of July 18.

It is the sixth investigation into an officer-involved shooting that the IIO has instituted since April 1. While police have said that Brooks was “suicidal,” he apparently was not armed.

The shooting has provoked a wave of anger in South Surrey, and many say the shooting was an extreme overreaction.

The IIO has emphasized the importance of getting witness accounts of what happened on July 18, and particularly wants to hear from civilians. (Anyone with information is asked to call toll-free 1-855-446-8477.)

Officer-involved deaths are deeply troubling. This shooting took place just a few days before the lead RCMP officer in the 2007 Taser death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport, Benjamin “Monty” Robinson, was sentenced to two years less a day for lying to a public inquiry. Robinson, who has since resigned from the RCMP, joins Const. Kwesi Millington in facing jail time for their roles in what has been deemed a coverup.

The Dziekanski death – and the subsequent Braidwood Inquiry into police actions – played a key role in the establishment of the IIO.

It has proven controversial.

Police, in particular, do not like the role the IIO plays in investigating death and injuries caused by police action. This isn’t too surprising. Given that police had control of these investigations before the IIO was established, the shift causes considerable turmoil in each of these investigations.

While the most recent practice prior to the IIO had been to have other forces investigate, it remained ‘all in the (police) family’.

Some current and former officers are also angry at the IIO over the laying of murder charges against Delta Police Const. Jordan MacWilliams, who was part of an emergency response team dealing with a distraught man outside the Starlight Casino in New Westminster in 2012. Mehrdad Bayrami was shot and killed, and following an IIO investigation, MacWilliams was later charged with murder.

After further investigation, the Criminal Justice Branch announced earlier this month that evidence in the case “no longer satisfies its charge approval standard for the continued prosecution.”

This brings up the question as to why the charges went ahead in the first place. Some feel the IIO was looking for a scalp to hang from its belt to justify its existence, and these things do happen in public agencies.

However imperfect the IIO is, the public need to have confidence in police. When other police forces do investigations into police-involved shootings, it appears to many that the investigators will go soft. The IIO was designed to show that an outside agency, which is not in any way beholden to police, can conduct an impartial investigation into deaths or injuries at the hands of police.

Its record is decidedly mixed thus far, and the stay of murder charges in the MacWillams case does not lead to any confidence in its initial investigation.

The most important thing here is that the vast majority of the public have confidence in police, and in law and order in general. There have been too many questionable cases in B.C. to leave investigations of police-involved death or serious injury in the hands of police.

While some could argue that the Crown erred in allowing the MacWilliams charge, there’s something to be said for taking a second look at the evidence.

It’s far too early to tell what the IIO will come up with in the Brooks case. It needs to do a thorough job, and it will likely be months before results are known.

However, having the IIO investigate the matter is better than what used to take place.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News.

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