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'Autopsy' of what went wrong will help police forces, ex-officer says

Ex Vancouver Police department member and noted criminal profiler Kim Rossmo during a beak from testify at the missing woman's inquiry in Vancouver January 24, 2012.


A former Vancouver police officer and now high-profile Texas criminologist says the report into missing women stands as a notable study of policing gone wrong that will resonate far beyond British Columbia.

In an interview on Tuesday, Kim Rossmo, who holds a chair in criminology at Texas State University in San Marcos, said the 1,448-page report is not just relevant to the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP, both scrutinized in the inquiry into missing women.

"This is a report for every police officer in every police department in the province, if not the country," he said.

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Prof. Rossmo's warnings that a serial killer was at work in the case of the missing women were not taken seriously by the VPD.

He said it is rare in policing to see an "autopsy" of what went wrong in a major case like that of Robert Pickton, convicted in 2007 in the deaths of six women.

Such reports, Prof. Rossmo said, "are invaluable documents and the information in them provides incredible microscopic examinations of things that go wrong. And that's how we learn."

"Crime is crime, and so police have much to learn from others, and one of the things we want to avoid is, at all costs, being parochial because the problem that is occurring in Hamburg today could happen in Edmonton tomorrow. What occurred in the Lower Mainland now, almost with guarantee, is going to happen somewhere else in North America or the world in the next decade. There will be another major problem that could have been avoided if people had followed up on their procedures."

Prof. Rossmo, also director of Texas State's Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation, said he has a PDF file of the Oppal report and is on the list for delivery of a hard copy.

Rob Gordon, head of the criminology school at Simon Fraser University, said he expected the report would be useful to academics. "It's a real-life example of what can go wrong in policing."

As an example of the value of government reports to academics, he noted he has a copy of Mr. Oppal's landmark 1994 report on policing on the shelves of his office. "That is considered to be an important policing document," he said.

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Prof. Rossmo gave Mr. Oppal's latest report high marks. "It was thorough, comprehensive but, most importantly, it is insightful. The commission and commissioner Oppal didn't fall into the trap of simplistic explanations or analysis that might fit certain agendas but doesn't describe what happened.

"He said what went wrong and why it went wrong. It all made sense to me as someone who was working on the inside, and I have to give him a lot of credit because that doesn't come easily."

He said he was impressed with the report's recommendations on improving investigations into missing persons, but took particular note of its call for a regional police force in the Vancouver region.

"This is a horrible example of where it goes wrong, so let's get it fixed.'"

Prof. Rossmo said the Lower Mainland's system of local police forces doesn't jibe with the reality of residents living, working and playing across various communities. The status quo, he said, "makes as much sense as having one police force for the north of Burnaby and another police force, entirely separate and independent, in the south of Burnaby."

In the Pickton case, he pointed to a situation where women were vanishing in Vancouver and a suspect was elsewhere in the region, leading to squabbles between Vancouver police and the RCMP that could have been eliminated, were one regional force handling the file.

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Prof. Rossmo said he felt vindicated by the Oppal report, with a caveat: "You wish you would have been wrong and the women still would be alive."

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