Exclusive op-ed: Outgoing head of B.C.’s civilian-led police watchdog asks for more support

Richard Rosenthal, who ends his term as the head of the Independent Investigations Office next week, has this message for government.

Exclusive op-ed: Outgoing head of B.C.'s civilian-led police watchdog asks for more support

By Richard Rosenthal

Next month will mark the nine-year anniversary of the death of Robert Dziekański at the Vancouver International Airport after he was “tasered” by RCMP officers. Mr. Dziekanski’s death was followed by a public outcry which included public concerns about the police investigating themselves.

The B.C. government subsequently responded to two different public inquiries, which were aligned with a strong public interest to create an independent agency to investigate police-related incidents resulting in death and serious injury. I was hired in January 2012 as the first chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office to launch the new office.

Today, the IIO serves as an independent civilian-led office with investigators with both police and non-police backgrounds.

Since its opening on Sept. 10, 2012, the IIO has closed 123 investigations, the majority of which resulted in public reports clearing the officers. One of the early successes of the office was the creation and publication of these public reports, which outline the reasons for exonerating officers, and provide sufficient information for the public to have confidence in the integrity of this decision-making process.

On Sept. 7, I will be retiring from my position with the IIO. Although British Columbians are better served today than they were prior to the office’s establishment, much work needs to be done in order to ensure the program’s long-term success.

The IIO’s mandate is to investigate all police related  incidents involving death or “serious harm,” regardless of whether or not there is any allegation of misconduct associated with the incident under investigation. Given no discretion in what cases to investigate, the IIO has no means to manage its caseload and its ability to operate in the future could  be negatively impacted by spikes in police related deaths or injuries.

In order for the IIO to meet its mandate in the future and succeed in the long term, the office will need significant support from the government in three ways:

1.  The government must update the Police Act to give the director discretion in what cases will be investigated. In addition, although I strongly support the long-term civilianization of the IIO program, future directors must be given the discretion to hire any qualified and appropriate person to serve as an investigator until such time as the program is ready for full civilianization; as such, the requirement that the director not hire any person as an IIO investigator who has served as a police officer in B.C. in the five years preceding his or her appointment, should be abolished.

2.  Regulations need to be created by the government to ensure best practices in investigations by the IIO. Currently, the IIO is operating under a memorandum of understanding with the police community that was created in 2012. Although the memorandum has worked well to ensure collaboration and cooperation between the IIO and the police community, conflicts have arisen that cannot be appropriately resolved through further compromise. Specifically, police officers involved in critical incidents must be required to write timely reports explaining their actions; police officers must be precluded from viewing incident video prior to being interviewed by the IIO and witness police officers should be required to provide video-recorded statements to the IIO upon request.

3.  The IIO must be provided with the resources necessary to ensure thorough and timely investigations. While the IIO was able to operate at a surplus in its first few years of operations, as the IIO continues to develop it will require additional resources to operate at full capacity and complete pending investigations according to the legitimate expectations of the community and the police.

It is an axiom of police oversight that one cannot create an independent investigation mechanism without giving constant attention to its development and needs. Immediate attention in the form of legislation and regulation can ensure that the funding for this important program will go to good use.

Richard Rosenthal

Chief civilian director, Independent Investigations Office of B.C.

 

IIO statistics

·         123 cases closed since September 2012.

·         68 Public Reports (no offence committed)

·         55 Reports to Crown counsel for consideration of charges

·         55 open cases (fluid number)

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

Staff and volunteers at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea were disappointed by the theft of an educational porpoise skull likely taken on Jan. 8. (Courtesy of Tina Kelly)
Well-loved porpoise skull stolen from Sidney aquarium

Skull had been used for youth and visitor education and outreach for years

The Starbucks in Langford’s Westshore Town Centre is one of almost 300 storefronts that the U.S. coffee giant will be shutting across Canada by the end of March. (Google Maps)
Langford’s Westshore Town Centre Starbucks to close permanently

Popular coffee chain to close 300 storefronts across Canada by end of March

An Oak Bay Police officer handed out five tickets for “fail to obey stop sign” and two tickets for using a cell phone while driving, all within two hours at King George Terrace on Jan. 11. (Oak Bay Police Twitter)
Man confronts unmasked group at Oak Bay Marina

Oak Bay police issue plenty of tickets in short King George Terrace visit

A 45-metre tall call tower is proposed for Westhills Stadium. (Black Press Media file photo)
New cell tower proposed for Westhills Stadium in Langford

Tower will increase capacity in congested network: staff report

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Most Read