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Independent police monitor coming from Denver to start B.C. office

B.C. Christy Clark, right, looks on as Richard Rosenthal speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on Thursday announcing his appointment as the province's first chief civilian director for independent investigations to provide accountability and oversight.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

He was Denver's first independent police monitor. He has prosecuted judges and cops in Los Angeles.

Now Richard Rosenthal is coming to police British Columbia police.

He is leaving Denver to head B.C.'s new Independent Investigations Office, a watchdog to probe police incidents that result in serious harm or death. The office will also be able to recommend criminal charges.

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Mr. Rosenthal, whose appointment was announced Wednesday, was blunt about his approach to dealing with police under scrutiny for questionable conduct.

"It's fair to say I have high expectations," he told a news conference. "My expectation is that officers will tell the truth."

In Denver, the police union called for his ouster earlier this year because he supported the firing of officers who told premeditated lies in investigations or administrative or judicial proceedings.

The police welcome was warmer in B.C. During the news conference, Fraser MacRae, acting commander of the RCMP's E-Division, covering British Columbia, said "it's pretty clear" public confidence in police hinges on a change in police investigating police.

"It's a great day for policing," Mr. MacRae said.

The head of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police noted the organization unanimously asked the government to create this kind of operation three years ago. "I'm happy we have arrived," said Peter Lepine, also chief of the West Vancouver Police Department.

"[Mr. Rosenthal]brings the right skill sets, the right talents, the right desire and the right attitude to his office," he said. "What's important here is public confidence."

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The B.C. government committed to build the new IIO in response to recommendations from a pair of inquiries, including the Braidwood Commission into the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

Mr. Rosenthal is to work through to mid-2012, recruiting a team of investigators made up of both civilians and former police officers. One condition is that they have never served as municipal police officers in B.C.; if they are Mounties, they cannot have served there in the past five years.

He ruled out retroactive investigations on old files related to police conduct.

"We hope he keeps an open mind about that. We think there are a lot of files worth looking at," said David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who otherwise praised Mr. Rosenthal's appointment.

Premier Christy Clark, present at the news conference with Solicitor-General Shirley Bond, promised a "substantial" budget for the agency, possibly about $10-million annually, but the figure is subject to debate as Mr. Rosenthal builds the organization.

Ms. Bond defended the hiring of an American. Through Portland and Denver, she said, Mr. Rosenthal has a strong track record of building these kinds of units, which she said are relatively rare in Canada.

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"It's going to be less about whether it's Canadian or [American]" she said. "I think Richard's experience tells us he will be able to deal with these changes in location and geography."

Mr. Rosenthal said he has a lot to learn – a process that will include visits to Ontario and Alberta to look at relevant systems. But he added: "On both sides of the border, there is a desire for safe, effective and fair policing."

For 15 years, Mr. Rosenthal was a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, working in central trials, major fraud and the special investigation section. In 2001, he created Portland's first professional police oversight agency.

In 2005, he went to Denver as the city and county's first independent monitor, with responsibilities that included monitoring all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. He also made recommendations on discipline.

"Richard took on a critical and challenging role as Denver's first independent monitor, and we appreciate his service to the city," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement Wednesday.

Mr. Rosenthal said he considered the B.C. assignment the "pinnacle" of his career because the agency will be a rarity in North America. "To have a civilian investigative agency conducting the investigation of these incidents really brings British Columbia to the forefront," he said. "It's a great opportunity and a great challenge."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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