Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Mar. 12, 2009)

Frank Paul Ė A Few Thoughts

By Bob Cooper



With the release today of the interim report of the Frank Paul Inquiry comes yet another call to change the way the police investigate themselves.  This may come as a surprise to some but I agree.  More on that in a moment.

Firstly, a few thoughts on the Inquiry itself.  Iíve read the portions of Commissioner William H. Daviesí report that deal with the criminal investigation conducted by the Homicide Squad.  In the interests of being open and honest with my readers, Iíll admit to some personal bias.  Detective Doug Staunton (retíd) and I worked together in the Homicide Squad for several years and in the Internal Investigation Squad (now the Professional Standards Section) prior to that.  Heís also one of my best friends.  Professionally, heís one of the best detectives Iíve ever known and I stand by that.

The fact pattern in this case is pretty simple and from what Iíve read, the efforts of dozens of lawyers, months of testimony, and the huge expense involved, havenít changed those facts or resulted in any dramatic revelations.  Commissioner Daviesí criticism of the investigation for the most part, amounts to what an old boss of mine characterized as Ďpicking fly (excrement) out of pepperí.  Frank Paul was a chronic alcoholic who, sadly, spent the vast majority of his last few years laying on sidewalks, in empty lots, in the back of police wagons, or in the drunk tank.  He likely had yearsí worth of dirt, fibre, and hair (human & animal) adhering to him.  For the life of me, I canít imagine what a forensic examination of a police wagon, or hair and fibre analysis would tell us.  I think the good Commissioner has been watching too much CSI.  Iím rather a fan of Emily Proctor and Eva LaRue myself but itís not reality.

In this particular instance the police failed Frank Paul.  Thatís common ground and thereís no two ways around it.  However, a tragic but inescapable fact is that given his lifestyle, simple percentages dictate that he was most likely to die Ďalone and coldí on the street regardless of the involvement of the police.  Some might disagree with the penalty meted out but both officers were punished.  The B.C. Police Act was designed to emphasize correction as opposed to being purely punitive.  Constable Dave Instant through a combination of bad direction and inexperience made a poor decision at the time.  He has expressed sincere remorse for that.  He has also gone on to become an outstanding and well-respected police officer, exemplifying the fact that the framers got it right.

Iíd also remind people that on literally hundreds of previous occasions the only ones who cared enough to bring Frank Paul in out of the cold were the Vancouver Police.   I donít recall hearing that Cameron Ward, Stewart Phillip, the Pivot Legal Society, or the BC Criminal Liberties Association ever took Frank Paul home, warmed him up or fed him.

As I said at the beginning, I agree in a general sense with the Commissionerís recommendations for change to the way the police investigate themselves.  I spent my last few months as the Second-in-Command of the Professional Standards Section which hastened my retirement.  During that time I was interviewed by former Justice Josiah Wood who had been commissioned to examine the police complaints process.  I told Mr. Wood that I believed that it was time we quit investigating ourselves.  I explained that I came to this view for the simple reason that in order to be effective we require the publicís trust.  This trust is based more often than not on perception.  The reality is that the investigators of the Professional Standards Section do an excellent job and the only redeeming feature about working there was the pride I took in them.   Their investigations are painstakingly thorough and routinely pass muster in numerous layers of oversight and rigid scrutiny.  Like all other human beings theyíre capable of making the odd mistake but so are doctors, engineers, lawyers, and dentists, to name just a few.

The perception is created by the mainstream media who have decided that unlike doctors, engineers, lawyers, and dentists, the police ought not to investigate themselves.  To bolster this view they give exclusive voice to the special interest groups that share it.  Like the old saying goes, you donít win a battle of words with people that buy ink by the barrel, so their view prevails.  This one issue was causing us more grief than any other so why cling to it?  Itís a no-win job.  Let someone else do it.

I proposed that a special squad comprised of seconded and retired detectives be set up under the auspices of the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.  Itís vitally important that the squad be governed by an independent officer of the Legislature rather than a bureaucrat or political hack.  I also stressed that this is a thankless task that you donít get a lot of volunteers for and proposed that the mandate be expanded to include the investigation of all public corruption cases which would make it a little more attractive and easier to recruit the best investigators.  At that point I got the feeling I was talking to myself.  Politicians funding a body that would investigate them?  He probably thought I was mental.

It isnít the perfect solution and it wonít satisfy everyone but I still think itís worth a shot.   

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