In South Surrey

OPINION: Officer investigators need help

Retiring director of the Independent Investigations Office calls for province to act.

Richard Rosenthal stepped down from his role as chief civilian director for the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia on Wednesday.

By Richard Rosenthal, Special to Black Press

Next month will mark the nine-year anniversary of the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport after he was Tasered by RCMP officers.

Mr. Dziekanski’s death was followed by a public outcry, which included public concerns about the police investigating themselves.

The government of British Columbia subsequently responded to two different public inquiries, which were aligned with a strong public interest to create an independent agency to investigate police-related incidents resulting in death and serious injury.

I was hired in January 2012 as the first chief civilian director (CCD) of the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) to launch the new office.

Today, the IIO serves as an independent civilian-led office with investigators with both police and non-police backgrounds.

Since its opening on Sept. 10, 2012, the IIO has closed 123 investigations, the majority of which resulted in public reports clearing the officers. One of the early successes of the office was the creation and publication of these public reports, which outline the reasons for exonerating officers, and provide sufficient information for the public to have confidence in the integrity of this decision-making process.

This week, I retired from my position with the IIO. Although British Columbians are better served today than they were prior to the establishment of the IIO, much work needs to be done in order to ensure the long-term success of the IIO program.

The IIO’s mandate is to investigate all police-related incidents involving death or “serious harm,” regardless of whether there is any allegation of misconduct associated with the incident under investigation. Given no discretion in what cases to investigate, the IIO has no means to manage its caseload, and its ability to operate in the future could be negatively impacted by spikes in police-related deaths or injuries.

In order for the IIO to meet its mandate in the future and succeed in the long term, the office will need support from the government in three ways:

1. The government must update the Police Act to give the CCD discretion in what cases will be investigated.

In addition, although I strongly support the long-term civilianization of the IIO program, future CCDs must be given the discretion to hire any qualified and appropriate person to serve as an investigator until such time as the program is ready for full civilianization; as such, the requirement that the CCD not hire any person as an IIO investigator who has served as a police officer in B.C. in the five years preceding his or her appointment, should be abolished.

2. Regulations need to be created by the government to ensure best practices in investigations by the IIO.

Currently, the IIO is operating under a memorandum of understanding with police that was created in 2012. Although the MOU has worked well to ensure collaboration between the IIO and the police community, conflicts have arisen that cannot be appropriately resolved through further compromise.

Specifically, police officers involved in critical incidents must be required to write timely reports explaining their actions; police officers must be precluded from viewing incident video prior to being interviewed by the IIO and witness police officers should be required to provide video-recorded statements to the IIO upon request.

3. The IIO must be provided with the resources necessary to ensure thorough and timely investigations.

While the IIO was able to operate at a surplus in its first few years of operations, as the IIO continues to develop, it will require additional resources to operate at full capacity and complete pending investigations according to the legitimate expectations of the community and the police.

It is an axiom of police oversight that one cannot create an independent investigation mechanism without giving constant attention to its development and needs.

Immediate attention in the form of legislation and regulation can ensure that the funding for this important program will go to good use.

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