After a “healthy debate,” British Columbia’s police forces, including the RCMP, have signed off on rules for working with the new civilian-led office that will conduct criminal investigations of police in cases that result in death or serious harm.
Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of British Columbia that will be operational on Sept. 10, said the 23-page agreement was essential so the office and police have the same set of expectations.
“We can’t have one set of rules for the RCMP and another set of rules for the [Vancouver Police Department],” he said in an interview Monday. “There was a healthy debate and discussion. In the end, we agreed on what we needed to agree on.”
That includes police protocols for contacting the IIO in response to incidents, securing notes from officers under investigation, interviewing officers and managing media relations. In addition to front-line police, input came from police unions and boards and civil liberty associations, among others.
To some extent, Mr. Rosenthal said the office will have to rely on police for such matters as maintaining the integrity of scenes while one of the 34 investigators for the Surrey-based IIO travel to incident locations.
“Particularly if we’re responding to the north or the RCMP’s southeast division, it’s going to take us some time to get there,” said the former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.
“The departments are required to maintain the integrity of the scene for us, and if it would degrade, they need to process the scene as appropriate.”
Police departments have been supportive of the IIO – a concept recommended by the Braidwood inquiry into the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski during a confrontation with Mounties.
“We’ve signed the [memorandum of understanding] and we’re 100 per cent in support of it. We’re happy to see its coming,” said Constable Lindsey Houghton, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department.
RCMP Chief Superintendent Wayne Rideout, of the E Division covering B.C., said the agreement had harmonized relations among a number of police organizations. “We’re good to go,” he said.
The organization’s investigators are a 50-50 mix of former police officers – five years out of the field – and civilians with investigative experience from work with such agencies as the coroners’ service and even the Insurance Corporation of B.C., Mr. Rosenthal said.
Both groups are being trained as necessary at the Justice Institute of B.C. and the Canadian Police College. “The training is obviously different for each [group],” he said.
Mr. Rosenthal said he is optimistic about positive working relationships ahead, though the office will scrutinize police. “In my career, I certainly have seen tensions between oversight and police,” he said. “I just don’t want to predict that will happen. What I have seen thus far is police services that want this program to start, they want it to succeed because it’s in their best interests to have an independent agency conducting investigations.”
“The reality is that when I have to make decisions as to whether or not I believe an officer committed a criminal act or not, I’ll get the level of respect and, at the same time, scrutiny that any one of them would if they were making that decision.”