Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive May 23, 2011)

They haven’t thought this through

By Bob Cooper




The announcement this week that the provincial government is finally setting up an independent agency to investigate ‘serious incidents’ involving police had all of the usual props.  Senior police officers on the podium with the Solicitor-General, the mothers of Ian Bush and Robert Dziekanski, and Christy Clark taking credit for all of it.  The lack of specifics made me suspect that the whole thing was thrown together faster than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statement to the Los Angeles Times (where knocking up the help was characterized as an ‘event’) and was meant to serve as a ‘good news’ distraction from the HST or their near defeat in the Point Grey By-Election.

Shoring up this suspicion is the fact that the only major detail announced was a bar on the hiring of any policemen who have worked in BC in the past 5 years (no similar ban on cop-hating activists or members of the BC Criminal Liberties Association).  Not a word about structure, number of investigators, specific mandate, budget, fairly fundamental things that most would consider important.  Nor was anything said about who would head the agency other that repeating that he or she would be a civilian and would report to the Attorney-General.  Given the record of government in this province, particularly the present one, this person should be an independent officer of the legislature like the Police Complaints Commissioner so that they and the agency are completely free of political interference.  Cops are just too easy to throw under a bus – don’t forget the attempt to railroad S/Sgt. Hugh Stewart at the APEC Inquiry that led to the resignation of Public Safety Minister Andy Scott.  (Ssshhh!  Don’t mention the Railroad.  I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.)

So.  With the bar on hiring ex-policemen how are investigators going to be selected and trained?  Will they be polygraphed?  Who will do their background investigations?  Who will set up a training program and where will it be carried out?  Can’t train them at the JI, too much chance of them interacting with cops in the cafeteria and becoming contaminated.  More importantly, where will they get the most critical qualification of any good investigator, specifically experience?  I spent years in Homicide and I was still learning the day I left.  They’re also going to need trained Identification members to photograph and process scenes and gather physical evidence including fingerprints.  If ‘serious incidents’ includes motor vehicle accidents, say in the course of a pursuit, they’ll need specialists in accident investigation including qualified reconstructionists and there aren’t a whole lot of them walking around.   Yet they claim they’ll have this agency operational by year’s end.  Good luck with that.

Picture this.  You’ve been on the street for 3 months, still on probation, and you’ve just been involved in a shooting.  You’re sitting in an Interview Room and realize that your career, your pension, and even your freedom are in the hands of whoever this new agency assigns and you may well be his first case.  Let’s look at the possibilities.  An out of work NDP lawyer.  An ex-London Drugs loss prevention officer.  A retired policeman.  Hey, what about him?  Has he ever worked a shooting?  No, he did most of his time in Patrol I think.  What do you mean, ‘you think’?  Well, he’s from out of province and we really don’t know much about him.  He just took the job to augment the meager pension he’s got left after two divorces.  Well sir, as tempting as these choices are, I think I’ll just take the Union rep. and a lawyer.  Thanks just the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the creation of an independent agency to conduct these investigations and I’ve said so in the past ( but it has to be done right and that requires careful consideration of these and a lot of other issues.  You can’t do that if you take hard & fast positions at the outset simply for the sake of optics.  The government should have been moving on this a long time ago but they shouldn’t rush now to make up for it.   It must be perceived as fair, competent, and credible by both the public and the police or it will fail.

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2011