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Cases piling up for B.C.'s new police oversight office

RCMP cordon off a crime scene using police tape.


During job interviews, would-be investigators for B.C.'s new civilian agency for investigating police were asked about their ability to multitask – to deal with one case piled on top of another.

Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, recalled the question during an interview Tuesday as he declared that his organization is officially busy.

Overnight Monday, 17 of 26 investigators were out at a pair of incidents – 10 at a fatal police shooting in Vancouver and seven at a fatal car accident in Langley that occurred after a driver fled a traffic stop.

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That brings to seven the number of unresolved cases the IIO has been dealing with since the first on Sept. 10 – a police shooting in Prince George on the same day that the organization had its debut news conference.

"As of today, we are busy," Mr. Rosenthal said. "With these two [new cases], our resources are being fully utilized."

There's a fatal shooting involving an officer in Prince George, a non-fatal shooting in Cranbrook and an in-custody death in Vancouver, plus other cases.

There are plans to hire another six investigators, and Mr. Rosenthal conceded he could really use them. "I am not saying we're necessarily underresourced at the current moment," he said. "I'd say we're adequately resourced."

In advance of the launch last month, his team did their best to figure out what kind of resources they would need and were close enough to make the operation work, he said.

"If we had two more [cases] this week, could we handle them? Yes," he said. "Would it put additional stress on our resources and ability to be timely in some of the other cases? Sure. Would it be fatal in that regard? I don't think so."

The IIO has yet to conclude an investigation to the point where Mr. Rosenthal could recommend charges against involved officers or clear them, but he said he is in no rush. "What I have promised over and over again, and I am standing by it, is that it needs to be in months instead of years and weeks instead of months," he said.

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Mr. Rosenthal said he has told his investigators they cannot compromise competence for timeliness. "But at the same time, a competent investigation that's not timely doesn't serve the public well. We've got to find that balance. That's our challenge."

He declined to comment on when he might resolve the first case. He said he will need a year of accumulated cases to get a better sense of how long it might take to routinely resolve cases, though some "outlier" cases will take longer because of their forensic complexity.

"It's very difficult to predict until you have a larger pool to work from that will then give you your averages," he said.

He said the amount of information released to the media on cases has varied, but that his inclination is against releasing much while an investigation is under way.

"The more information we release early on, the greater the likelihood it could be wrong. Also, the more likely that people could be reading into it to try to figure out where we're going on it. The reality is no decision will be made on any case until the investigation is complete."

However, he said a "robust public report" on the cases would be released when he reports out on a case.

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The executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says he fully supports this discretion because police investigating themselves have, in the past, released advance information that fuelled premature conclusions.

Indeed, David Eby said the association, in advance consultations, counselled the IIO to be cautious about releasing too much information too early. "They're probably going to be doing a balancing act going forward on where that happy medium should be," he said. "We think they should be erring on the side of caution."

Mr. Eby also said he is in no rush to see cases cleared in a rush because they tended to take a year or longer when handled, in past, by the police. "We're not hitting the panic button yet," he said.

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