B.C. police oversight too convoluted
This video posted by a user called Danny Carlson on YouTube showed some longboarders zooming down a hill in West Vancouver before a police vehicle pulls halfway into the oncoming lane and hits his lights. (FROM YOUTUBE)
A video of an incident between West Vancouver police and longboarders went viral last week. The longboarders were rocketing down a steep road when a police officer coming in the other direction turned on his lights and pulled partly in the path of them, apparently causing one to crash as he took evasive action.
When the West Vancouver Police Department announced it was referring the matter to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, CKNW morning show host Bill Good asked — rather innocently, I thought — why the department’s chief didn’t just handle the matter internally?
An interesting question. Why indeed?
In last week’s column, I suggested the OPCC was a redundant bureaucracy, but in digging into the answer to Good's question, it seems it is much worse than that.
In 2010, the provincial government amended the Police Act, essentially emasculating the chief constables of municipal police agencies. They are no longer allowed to investigate internal complaints or disciplinary matters in their own departments without the civilian oversight of the OPCC. Incredibly, they are not legally entitled to manage the disciplinary actions involving their own workforce.
The process in place now means the matter is referred to the OPCC, which decides if an investigation is warranted. If so, an investigator is assigned, which may or may not be from the originating agency. The investigation is overseen, ostensibly, by an analyst with the OPCC.
The investigator submits his final report, which is then reviewed by a disciplinary authority, which may be the chief or a designated senior officer.
A report is then written to determine whether the complaint or incident is “substantiated” or “unsubstantiated.” The OPCC will then confirm the decision. If he does not, the commissioner may order a review by a retired judge.
That judge will then review the file and agree or not with the decision. If not, there may then be a formal hearing in front of a retired judge. If substantiated, it may be forwarded to a public hearing. If the judge agrees it is unsubstantiated, the matter is over.
Well, unless you are current commissioner Stan Lowe. Last year, in a case involving an Abbotsford police officer, Lowe disagreed with retired judge Bill Diebolt and actually applied for a judicial review of Diebolt’s decision.
Justice Elliott Myers of the B.C. Supreme Court treated it appropriately and dismissed Lowe’s application.
Once upon a time, a chief simply handled the matter internally.
Incredibly, in B.C. that is no longer possible.
Leo Knight is a former police officer, security expert and host of primetimecrime.com.
Has the government gone too far with changes to the police complaint process?
Yes — it should be streamlined
No — this process is necessary to hold police accountable