(This column was published in the North Shore News on Nov. 17, 1999)

 

Crime fighters frustrated

By Leo Knight

A long-time North Vancouver Mountie has been selected as one of the unit leaders for the new organized crime fighting agency, OCABC, which is being headed by another former North Van cop, Bev Busson.  

 

Mike Littlejohn, who spent much of his career here on the North Shore in the drug section, also worked with Busson previously in the Okanagan.  

 

He rejoins her in the new agency created from the ashes of the Coordinated Law Enforcement Agency (CLEU).  

 

While these are good moves, there is still something wrong with what has been going on with the fledgling agency.  

 

CLEU, you'll remember, was dismantled by the attorney general a year ago following the so-called "Owen Report" into its operations. The report led to the firing of former director Peter Engstad (and his subsequent reassignment to the aboriginal treaty negotiation process) and the announcement of a new organization.  

 

Last spring, with a flurry of fanfare, Ujjal Dosanjh announced the appointment of Busson, a former RCMP assistant commissioner and then the commanding officer of "F" division in Saskatchewan and the highest-ranking female officer in the force. Busson was tasked with coming up with a plan for the new agency tailored to fighting organized crime in the new century.  

 

While a virtual one-man band in the early days, Busson found herself embroiled in the tricky world of police politics, long a hindrance to getting anything accomplished and a singular point of concern in the Owen report.  

 

As the head of a joint forces operation, Busson needs the cooperation of both senior management of the RCMP in B.C. as well as the backing of the municipal chiefs of police, mostly that of the largest municipal department, Vancouver.  

 

Busson's first problem was to hire a second-in-command, and that's where the first delicate political manoeuvring had to occur.  

 

The hierarchy of the Vancouver Police Department would never accept a Mountie-dominated agency and, likewise, the RCMP have an inherent distrust of "Munies" and balk at taking direction from someone who is not one of their own.  

 

Busson interviewed a number of very qualified candidates but in the end made the only decision she could from a political point of view and selected VPD Insp. Peter Ditchfield as her adjunct. This ensured the requisite support of Vancouver PD and given Ditchfield's long history in working Asian gangs and subsequently heading up the VPD's Strike Force and Gang Unit, should have been readily accepted by the RCMP.

 

By splitting the unit leader positions equally between Mounties and "Munies" Busson hoped to have struck a balance. But, thus far, the jury is still out as to whether the organization structure will be accepted. In fact, there is word trickling around that Busson's selection of Ditchfield is seen as a slap in the face to the RCMP and some of the old boy's net is shunning Busson and her agency.  

 

But treading through the minefield of inter-agency politics is not Busson's only problem in bringing life to a new organized crime intelligence and enforcement agency. The politics and general ineffectiveness of CLEU lingers on as she tries to get operations going.

 

The attorney general made the right decision in terminating CLEU. Everyone with any knowledge of what was going on with that dysfunctional agency knew it had to be stripped down and rebuilt. But instead of cleaning house and giving Busson the authority to do it right, CLEU lingered on and while no longer operational, elements of it still exist.  

 

In fact, Engstad was the only significant casualty. To this day, there are senior management staffers, as responsible as Engstad for the impotence of the once exceptional organization, still on the payroll. Going to work each day with nothing apparent to do. Sources tell me they are being paid in excess of $75K a year, complete with taxpayer-provided vehicles and expense accounts and have little more to do than read the daily papers and make nice-nice with their secretaries.  

 

Additionally, the bureaucrats have stuck their pointy-heads into the process.  

 

OCABC needs a building to work from.  

 

In the world of organized crime investigation, the premises needed must be in a highly secure, yet low profile environment. It must have a number of specifically designed features such as a wire room, a secure area designed for the interception, analysis and transcription of electronic surveillance.  

 

Thus far the bureaucrats have looked at a number of properties to house the new agency, including the former municipal building in Ladner and a host of others.  

 

A deal has apparently been struck for a former fisheries building on Annacis Island and several hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to make the property usable for the agency. In spite of that there will be no wire room. At best this will only be a temporary fix. Despite the money being spent, the bureaucrats in the AG's office are still looking for a permanent solution to the property conundrum.  

 

And what of the former CLEU building, purpose-built for housing a large organized crime fighting agency? Apparently that's still up in the air. The last word was the Ministry of Children and Families will use it as a base of operations for their ham-handed functions. One wonders what those tyrants might do with wire intercept capability?  

 

While all of this nonsense is going on, organized crime is flourishing and laughing at the feebleness of the police.  

 

For several years now the efforts of the men and women at the sharp end of the fight have been hampered by the incompetence of senior management, bungling bureaucrats and self-important empire builders.  

 

Busson has assembled a strong team so far. But with all the politicking and bureaucratic bungling, she is still a very long way from initiating the first investigation. Meanwhile, the attorney general is busy mired in the dirty politics of an NDP leadership bid. Nero fiddles while Rome burns.  

 

Is it any wonder Vancouver has become the North American focal point for Asian organized crime? Is it any wonder the Hells Angels in B.C. have become the wealthiest in the outlaw motorcycle gang world while virtually untouched by law enforcement?  

 

The answer, unfortunately, is no. 

 

  -30-

 

 

 

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