(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 31, 1999)

 

AG's crime agency boss a good appointment

By Leo Knight

ATTORNEY General Ujjal Dosanjh took the first step toward national respectability in the way we fight organized crime last week when he announced the appointment of Bev Busson as Chief Officer of the fledgling Organized Crime Agency of B.C.  

 

While the parameters of the new organization have yet to be worked out, the message coming from the press conference introducing Busson to the assembled media was positive for a change.  

 

It has been a very turbulent year for the law enforcement community in the wake of the arrest and subsequent conviction of provincial Special Constable Phillip Tsang, the former Royal Hong Kong police officer cum taxi driver, hired in 1993 by the now deposed Peter Engstad, then director of the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Unit (CLEU).  

 

Tsang's arrest triggered the formation of a review committee to look at how the province fights the growing menace of organized crime. The committee, chaired by former Deputy AG and Ombudsman Stephen Owen, investigated the operations of CLEU and attempted to determine its collective effectiveness.  

 

The committee's report, not including appendices, runs over 70 pages long and is a frightening read.  

 

The analysis of the magnitude of the problem and its subsequent recommendations reveal how far the problem of organized crime has come since CLEU was first formed in 1974 and how inadequate our response to the problem has been.  

 

Committee members Owen, former Vancouver Chief Constable Bob Stewart and retired RCMP Deputy Commissioner Richard Bergman struggled to get a handle on the "magnitude of the organized crime problem," and in the end could not come to grips with the exact size of the enigma.  

 

This speaks volumes about the failure of Engstad since he assumed control of CLEU in the latter part of the '80s.  

 

In the executive summary of the document obtained by the North Shore News the committee said: "As a first step in combating organized crime, British Columbia should develop a more accurate and detailed picture of the scope and magnitude of crime group activities."  

 

Clearly, this statement indicates the existing intelligence profiles is just not good enough. Chapter 2 of the report states: "The committee discovered that no detailed quantification of British Columbia's organized problem exists."  

 

What a strong condemnation of Engstad's reign as director of CLEU, if after more than a decade in charge, there had not been a specific analysis of the very problem they were tasked with curtailing.  

 

Considering that Engstad was relieved of his duties last November, two months after the report was filed and is now part of the First Nations treaty making process, one can only wonder what pitfalls lie ahead in that political minefield.  

 

While the report is written in "bureaucratese," it contains enough strongly worded conclusions and recommendations to place the blame squarely at the feet of the CLEU leadership and government underfunding.  

 

Consider what the committee identified as "several key obstacles to an effective response (to organized crime)":  

 

"A co-ordinated response to organized crime, which CLEU originally provided, has been lost."  

 

"CLEU is trying to do too much with too few resources.  

 

"Uneven CLEU leadership, a lack of accountability and workplace conflict have undermined morale in all ranks.  

 

"Lack of a comprehensive funding agreement and a steady erosion of federal and provincial funding for anti-organized crime initiatives have weakened intelligence, operations and policy development functions."  

 

The committee made 23 recommendations in the report. Salted throughout the report is the strong urging for the provincial government to pay attention to the problem and provide "increased" or "adequate" funding for the law enforcement efforts.  

 

Equally, the report also tells the politicians and the bureaucrats to stay out of areas they know nothing about, a shot at Engstad and his civil servant cronies who wrested control from the professional police officers over 10 years ago.  

 

Recommendations 14, 15 and 17 stress the importance of having police officers in charge of operations and intelligence divisions. It also recommends the political arm be relegated to being responsible for the "development of policy relating to organized crime."  

 

This separation between policy and operations is paramount in ensuring the new agency does not become mired in the politics of empire-building which plagued and ultimately destroyed the overall effectiveness of CLEU.  

 

Considering the revelations concerning the scandal plaguing the premier with the references to organized crime, internet gambling and video lottery terminals, all said by the Owen report to be under the control of the Hells Angels and other aspects of traditional organized crime, the separation is absolutely crucial to ensure the corrupting tentacles of these organizations can be kept under control.  

 

How the transition between the current structure of CLEU and the new Organized Crime Agency is going to occur is still up in the air.  

 

The newly appointed chief officer is going to take some time in the first few months to get the lay of the land, so to speak, to determine what the most effective path will be.  

 

Former RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bev Busson is a highly respected, professional police officer by all accounts.  

 

The officers I have spoken to who have worked with her in the past are pleased with the appointment. At the press conference she indicated her priorities are going to be focused on enforcement rather than intelligence, which would seem to be a return to what made CLEU a much more effective organization in its first decade and a half of existence.  

 

The AG has made the right first step in bringing Busson on board.  

 

We can only hope he continues on the right foot by following the other recommendations in the Owen report and gives the appropriate funding and resources to allow the police to finally get a handle on the rising tide of organized crime in British Columbia.  

 

To do less will reduce the new agency to nothing more than window dressing, something we have seen far too much of in the past 10 years.

 

  -30-

 

 

 

 

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