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Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director for the Independent Investigations Office, is based in Surrey, B.C. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director for the Independent Investigations Office, is based in Surrey, B.C. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Head of B.C. police watchdog not seeking second term Add to ...

Richard Rosenthal, the first chief civilian director of British Columbia’s Independent Investigations Office, the police watchdog born out of the Robert Dziekanski and Frank Paul public inquiries, will not seek a second term.

Mr. Rosenthal, in an interview at his office Wednesday, said he plans to pursue a PhD at Simon Fraser University, wrapping up a 30-year career in law enforcement.

“At 15 years as a prosecutor, I looked back, I had a very successful career with lots of challenges, but it was time to move on and have a more systemic effect on policing, on policy, procedure, training. And here I am at the second 15-year mark, and I have another opportunity to have even more systemic influence,” he said.

“In academia, I’m going to have the opportunity to have an impact on civilian oversight not only in Canada and the U.S., but all over the world.”

Mr. Rosenthal said he thought about his plans over the summer and decided he wanted to return to school so that he could, some day, teach. He said he’s already been admitted to the university and started working on his PhD part-time in the fall. The field of study is police oversight.

“There are very few academics who are writing, doing research, teaching on oversight; there are only a handful. And none of them have the kind of experience I’ve got,” he said.

Mr. Rosenthal’s term at the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) will conclude on Jan. 9, 2017. His stint has, at times, been rocky. A report by a legislature committee found the office had high levels of attrition and low morale.

Mr. Rosenthal has said morale is “typically the bane of the existence of the first chief” and noted Wednesday that a complaint against him of bullying and harassment was ultimately found to be unsubstantiated.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, in a statement, thanked Mr. Rosenthal for his service.

“Mr. Rosenthal … has been instrumental in establishing the IIO and advancing its mandate to ensure that all investigations of death or serious harm involving police officers in B.C. are dealt with promptly, appropriately and independently,” she wrote.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Mr. Rosenthal has always been open to hearing from community members and family groups who are involved in police accountability.

“We hope the IIO will continue the commitment [Mr.] Rosenthal put in place of engaging communities as it evolved and improved over time,” Mr. Paterson wrote in an e-mail.

“The IIO has had some difficult times in these early years. We hope that the province will use this year to frankly assess what is working well at the IIO, what needs improvement, and gear its leadership search toward continuing to make those improvements.”

Douglas King, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, said that, despite the human-resources woes, “you did always get the sense that [Mr. Rosenthal] was going to hold police to a very high standard and do his best to assure that any case where charges were possible should be sent to Crown.”

Mr. Rosenthal, a former Los Angeles prosecutor, came to the B.C. office after similar police-oversight roles in Portland and Denver.

When asked if he had been concerned he wouldn’t be reappointed to a second term, Mr. Rosenthal laughed.

“The government has always been very supportive. I have no reason to believe I wouldn’t have been reappointed, but I really haven’t thought about that because that’s not what I’m looking for,” he said.

Mr. Rosenthal said he first told the province he wouldn’t seek reappointment in September, and wanted to give the government as much lead time as possible to find his successor, as such roles can be difficult to fill.

An office spokesperson said it has closed 109 cases since the IIO was set up in September, 2012. The spokesperson said the office has sent 47 reports to Crown, with charges approved in seven. The office does not make a recommendation on whether Crown should lay charges.

Of the seven cases in which charges against officers have been laid, two resulted in guilty verdicts, two in stays, one officer was acquitted and two cases remain ongoing. The office is currently working on 44 files.

When asked if he had expected more officers to be charged by this time, Mr. Rosenthal said he had no expectations.

“If you were to go back and look at what I said four, five years ago, it was the exact same thing, which is, ‘You never know,’” he said.

The office’s most criticized case was also its first. Approximately 10 hours after the office opened its doors, retired soldier Greg Matters was shot and killed by RCMP near Prince George. The office mistakenly reported Mr. Matters had been shot in the chest instead of the back. The office’s investigative team also featured two former police officers who were not yet authorized to work in such a role. The officers involved in the shooting of Mr. Matters were ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.

An investigation by the office into a November, 2012, police shooting initially led to a charge of second-degree murder against the Delta police officer who pulled the trigger, which was the first murder charge against a B.C. officer in recent memory.

The Crown laid the murder charge in October, 2014, but announced a stay of proceedings in July. The Crown said that after conducting interviews with other officers ahead of the trial, it was no longer satisfied it could prove the officer who fired his weapon acted unreasonably.

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