Archive for February 2015
The latest fusillade in the politics of policing was fired today by the Police Complaints Commissioner, Stan Lowe, when he sent out a media release headlined “Disclosure of Investigation Pursuant to Police Act”
A press release about an investigation not yet complete? Allegation are allegations, proof is an entirely different thing.
Then it used this explosive language. “To date, the investigation involves 17 members of the APD and includes 148 allegations of misconduct under the Police Act. The allegations of misconduct include allegations of Corrupt Practice, Deceit and Neglect of Duty pursuant to the Police Act.”
Sounds serious indeed.
It generated headlines across the country like this story in the Toronto Sun: 17 BC cops under investigation for misconduct
And this one in the Vancouver Province: ‘It’s going to be a circus’: Probe of Abbotsford Police Department corruption could unravel successes in fight against gangs
Corruption? In reality, one of the 17 officers is Christopher Nicholson who has already been charged criminally in May of 2013. And 58 of the 148 allegations mentioned involve Nicholson. The rest are questionable paperwork resulting from an audit conducted by Vancouver Police Department investigators at the request of Abbotsford Chief Constable Bob Rich as a result of the Nicholson investigation.
Major police corruption story? Not hardly.
So much so that Rich held a hastily called press conference in front of police HQ saying that not one of the other 16 police officers has been removed from duty. That speaks volumes. Here’s the raw video of the press conference: www.youtube.com/embed/q0kEsQnCIiI
There’s no question the allegations against Nicholson are serious and if proven, speaks to a bad cop. One bad cop. But, Rich when informed he may have a bad cop by members of his own department did everything right by asking for an investigation by an outside agency, in this case the VPD, which resulted in Nicholson being arrested and charged criminally. He then went further by asking for an audit into the APD’s procedures in obtaining warrants, which is the basis for the criminal charges as revealed in the VPD investigation.
That audit revealed other potential issues in the paperwork done in Informations to Obtain by other Abbotsford officers in drug investigations. Things like not identifying the complete criminal record of a source in the ITO.
This isn’t corruption. What Nicholson is alleged to have done is corruption. One guy manipulating the system to benefit a source’s operation. That, if proven, is wrong. Getting the paperwork wrong in the writing an ITO is not corruption, it’s a failing of the officer trying to deal with the bureaucratic process imposed upon them by an unwieldy system.
To understand this point, in the 1990’s an ITO could be written simply describing why you wanted a search warrant, where the information came from and what it was you believed the search would yield. A page or two was usually sufficient. Now, the average ITO is over a hundred pages outlining every detail of the investigation in bureaucratic minutiae. It’s ridiculous what we make cops go through to get a search warrant these days. But it is what it is.
Given that, is it possible a cop could make an error or omit a factoid that an audit might discover? Absolutely and that is what is at the heart of this story that for whatever reason the head of the OPCC felt he had to release this grenade of a press release this morning.
Chief Bob Rich was right to come out defending his members. And good on him. He knows that little or nothing will come from this and the OPCC is playing a game in trying to over-reach in their disclosure battle with the VPD and New Westminster PD. This is the politics of policing not outrageous corruption in a police department.
Here’s a prediction backed up by personnel within the OPCC, nothing much will result from all of this.
Last week the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) in Victoria released a statement saying that no charges would be approved in a case involving a relatively minor motor vehicle accident. That isn’t surprising, based on the facts where a female RCMP member was trying to effect a traffic stop and a motorcyclist coming in the opposite direction dumped and the rider suffered a broken leg.
The IIO investigation tried to allege that it was due to the mountie, who had lights and siren activated, had somehow contributed to the accident and therefore would have been charged with something like drive without due care and attention. Which, of course, is nonsense and so said the CJB.
But what was interesting to me was the media release was six pages long and 3,134 words explaining why they were not going to charge the police officer. Yet, in the case of Delta Police Constable Jordan MacWilliams who was charged with second degree murder, the media release consisted of a single page and was 414 words in length and said absolutely nothing about why this extraordinary charge was laid against an ERT officer doing his job at an armed hostage taking situation.
The last media release by the CJB was on January 14 in a case where the IIO tried to get charges laid against two dog handlers in incidents where the suspects were bitten in the course of the arrest. In that release, also announcing no charges would be laid, the CJB made the announcement in 4,144 words.
In the one before that, on Dec. 23, 2014, the CJB announced no charges in the case of an Abbotsford police officer who made an arrest during which the suspect suffered a broken finger.The CJB used 3,357 words for that particular announcement.
Lots of talk about why no charges would be laid in relatively minor incidents but precious little in a singular case where a charge of murder was laid against a police officer engaged in the execution of his duty. This makes no sense. If the public deserves to know why a charge wasn’t laid, surely it is entitled to know why a charge was laid.
Equally, the police community needs to know. As it stands now in the MacWilliams case the thousands of police officers in BC don’t know why MacWilliams was charged when for all appearances he did the job he was paid to do on that fateful day in November, 2012.
In not telling them why, the CJB risks the possibility of a police officer hesitating, second-guessing what he or she is doing instead of following their instinct and training. That hesitation could cost someone their life.
In December the President of the BC Police Association, Tom Stamatakis, had this to say on the subject of a police officer being charged with murder in the execution of his or her duty: “The expectation is that police officers respond proactively to protect the public, if in responding proactively we are going to now face these kinds of charges, I worry that police officers will hesitate to intervene in circumstances like these, and if they do hesitate than that means the safety of the public is at risk.”
He went on to say that the charge against Macwilliams was “absolutely unconscionable.”
I have to agree with Stamatakis but it is equally unconscionable not to tell the public or the policing community why this is being done.
It seems the chickens are coming home to roost for the IIO’s Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal. The BC government has finally launched a probe into senior leadership. According to a story in the Victoria Times Colonist (BC government launches investigation into civilian police watchdog) the decision to involve the Public Service Agency, essentially the Human Resources department for government, was made by Deputy Attorney General Richard Fyfe after receiving numerous complaints.
It’s about time. I wrote that Rosenthal should be fired last June for his horrible leadership and the resulting problems in the IIO. (IIO needs a leadership to be successful) Since then more investigators have resigned and the morale within spirals ever lower among those that remain The IIO is desperately trying to hire more people to fill the gaps and meet their statutory obligations. But the reality is that the only people with the requisite expertise who would work for Rosenthal are those who are desperate for a job or haven’t done their research.
And there’s the rub. Without that expertise how is any police officer expected to have any faith they will be given a fair shake if they are involved in a serious incident? If you have investigators who don’t know what they are doing trying to handle, for example, an officer-involved shooting, essentially a homicide investigation, how can the police or the public be confident in their results?
Every former IIO investigator I have spoken to describe a workplace mired in poor morale, bullying leadership and bad decision-making. And nothing has changed, but more of the same as outlined in this piece (‘Morale went downhill fast’ former employee says of police watchdog).
It is patently obvious that Rosenthal and his sidekick, John Larkin, have to go if the IIO has any possibility of succeeding in the long-term. What is equally obvious is that the construction of the IIO also has to change. There needs to be the ability of employing those with major case management expertise in positions, at the very least , as directors (current terminology) or team commanders. One of the current directors is a former CBC reporter. One wonders what particular expertise that skill-set allows to supervise a serious incident investigation involving the actions of the police.
I have written extensively of the case of Delta Police Constable Jordan MacWilliams who has been charged with second degree murder as a result of the shooting of an armed hostage-taker at the Starlight Casino in November, 2012. In that particular case, from the time of the shooting until a charge was laid, there were three separate primary investigators or ‘team commanders’ assigned to the file. One went off on long term leave, the other was hired as a constable with Victoria Police leaving the current one.
Think about that. He was the primary investigator, supervising numerous investigators in a homicide investigation that has resulted in a murder charge against an ERT officer just doing his job and in the midst of the process he was hired as an entry level police officer.
And while I’ve got you thinking, the person who has requested the investigation by the Public Service Agency, Richard Fyfe, was, I am told, a part of the process to hire Rosenthal and to whom Rosenthal reported. He has known about the leadership issues of Rosenthal for several years inasmuch as many of the complaints of former investigators went directly to him. And, he was also the person who signed the Direct Indictment charging MacWilliams with murder, bypassing the normal process of having a preliminary hearing to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial. With that he has deprived MacWilliams of his right to test the evidence the Crown is using to allege murder against a police officer who was just doing his job.
I can’t speak for MacWilliams, but if it were me, I wouldn’t have much faith in a process with all of this going on. Fyfe, like Rosenthal, is a lawyer by trade. He was called to the bar in 1986 but has spent much of his career with the Attorney General’s ministry rising over the years to his current position as Deputy Attorney General. He became a QC (Queen’s Counsel) in 2009.
But he was instrumental the process of creating this monster, the hiring of Rosenthal, doing little for months on end despite knowing about the problems in the IIO and then signing the incredibly rare Direct Indictment in a case that seems to be as clean a police shooting as I have ever seen.
I don’t question his competence. But, if I were MacWilliams, I would wonder if the case against me was a doubling down on the bad decision to hire someone like Rosenthal in the first instance. I would wonder if, by prosecuting a good police officer who did his job in a life and death situation, was an effort to justify the existence of an organization that has had such a troubled launch. I would wonder if the politics of needing the IIO to be perceived as a success was why I was being prosecuted for murder and facing life in prison for just doing my job.
NOTE: I no sooner posted this when I came across this: Sex discrimination trial starts Monday
How in the name of all that is good did the due diligence into Rosenthal not turn this up? Were any background checks done for someone to lead this embryonic police oversight organization?
This is getting more outrageous by the day. Fire him and do it fast. As Shakespeare said, “If ’twere done and done well, then best ’twere done quickly.”