Growing pains for police investigation unit

Richard Rosenthal has fired ex-cops from Independent Investigations Office in a move to all-civilian oversight of police-involved shootings

Richard Rosenthal is three years into a five-year term as chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office. He is eligible to be reappointed to one more term.

B.C. police forces have undergone a “sea change” in the two years since a civilian-led unit was put in charge of investigating police-involved deaths and serious injuries, says the man in charge of the Independent Investigations Office.

But the road to a new system that is moving away from police investigating other police has not been smooth, former U.S. prosecutor Richard Rosenthal acknowledged in his report to a committee of B.C. MLAs Thursday.

The office started up in the fall of 2012 with 36 investigators, about half and half civilians and former police officers. Its mandate was to move to all-civilian investigations, and Rosenthal said progress has been made, with two thirds of staff in the two investigative teams being people who have never worked as police officers.

This year four former officers were fired from the IIO, and five more resigned, Rosenthal told the committee. Two civilian staff also quit this year after three civilians resigned in 2013. Another former officer was “separated from the organization” in 2012, Rosenthal said.

He cited three reasons for the high turnover: “cultural conflicts,” the struggles of a new organization and evolution of jobs that causes people to look for something new.

A one-time Los Angeles deputy district attorney who worked on the 1999 Rampart case involving violence and drug dealing in the city’s police force, Rosenthal set up independent police oversight in Portland and Denver before coming to B.C.

He was asked about a survey of his operation that referred to a lower-than expected case load. Rosenthal said that was done before the office dealt with four fatal officer-involved shootings in less than three months.

“I don’t believe there is a single person in the office who would say that today,” he said.

Rosenthal said video cameras for police dog handlers, general-duty officers and police Tasers would help in some cases, but that is a decision for police services due to cost and privacy concerns.

The B.C. government committed to a civilian-led agency after a string of incidents involving RCMP and city police forces. The office was recommended by inquiries into the 2007 deaths of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport, and Frank Paul, who was removed from the Vancouver Police drunk tank in 1998 and left unconscious in an alley.

The 2005 gunshot death of Ian Bush at the RCMP detachment in Houston, B.C. was another case that pushed the B.C. government to end the practice of police incidents being investigated by other police forces. The independent office also brought B.C. RCMP officers under civilian oversight.

The B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner is continuing to handle public complaints against police forces in the province.


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