Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Dec. 24, 2011)

Unfair Process Won’t Fix Problems

By Bob Cooper


In the wake of fresh controversy, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has pledged swift action against those accused of ‘dark hearted’ behavior such as sexual harassment or excessive force.  He’s promised that not only will their guns & badges be taken away but they would be immediately suspended without pay.  I thought that perhaps he’d been misquoted or had meant to say ‘found guilty’ instead of ‘accused’ but he cleared that up by saying ‘there is no presumption of innocence in the workplace, none’.  Somehow I’d hate to be the next poor slob to tell an off-color joke to the wrong person.

Anyone who calls for a standard policy of suspension without pay for members facing serious allegations has likely never been the subject of one.  Years ago, my partner and I were accused of taking bribes from a major gangster and believe me, the accusation alone is devastating.  Fortunately, in our case our bosses, Staff Sergeant Gord Spencer and Inspector Ron Foyle, along with all of our colleagues were extremely supportive and we didn’t even have our duty status altered.  The worst part of it is that no matter how much you cooperate, offer to open your bank accounts and take the polygraph, the best verdict you’re going to get is ‘unsubstantiated’.  You can never really clear yourself.

Somehow we kept from becoming too bitter, put it behind us and had pretty successful careers.  Neither of us dwell on it but I will always remember how the stress was alleviated in large measure by the decent way we were treated.  I can’t imagine the added pressure of being presumed guilty, not getting that support from management, and worst of all, being cast out, cut off from your friends and losing your income when you need it most.

Having worked in the Internal Investigation Squad in the early 90s I’ve seen the other side of the coin and cleared a number of police officers who had been accused of very serious crimes ranging from Theft to Sexual Assault as well as several cases involving allegations of sexual harassment.   I’ve sat across from 20 year veterans and had them burst into tears at the mere thought of this type of accusation. In some of those cases the guys looked pretty guilty at the outset but I always remembered something the late Sergeant Sam Andrews taught me which was that a lot of things look a certain way until you start delving into them.

In one Sexual Assault allegation, guilt seemed so certain the member was suspended immediately but his pay was continued.  Over the next 3 months we interviewed literally dozens of witnesses.  We travelled as far North as Fort St. James and as far South as Los Angeles and determined that, while the details the complainant related were essentially true, she had done what complainants do from time to time and failed to tell us everything.  The parts she’d left out made all the difference and the member was cleared and returned to duty.   

In another, a 16 year old street kid accused a Granville St. beat constable of shoving a gun in her face and extorting an act of oral sex.  The assigned detective was initially convinced the girl was telling the truth but some of the rest of us were skeptical based on missing information in her statement and convinced him to offer the complainant a polygraph.  Five minutes into the pre-test interview she confessed to making the whole thing up and said she did it because the officer had arrested several of her street friends and she thought that this would get him transferred or jailed.

These are just a few examples of police officers who were wrongfully accused and might otherwise have been fired or sent to prison or both.  Most departments realize that active, aggressive policemen are going to get complaints and that they are sitting ducks for bogus allegations lodged by gangsters in the hope that they’ll be suspended or reassigned.  Maintaining discipline and ensuring fair treatment are not mutually exclusive.   With a few exceptions the VPD has treated its members very fairly, accorded them the presumption of innocence, and has not had any systemic corruption since the mid 1960s.

I applaud Commissioner Paulson’s resolve to rid his force of bad apples and while I appreciate the pressure he is under, the system of discipline in the RCMP didn’t fall into its present state overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight.  It needs to be streamlined so that all involved can be assured of a resolution that is timely but most of all, fair.  In the meantime serious misconduct issues are best addressed by strong leadership and common sense rather than draconian measures and a rush to judgment which do nothing but destroy morale and make matters worse



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