Investigating the Police: Breaking down the report on BC's Independent Investigations Office

The Special Committee to Review the Independent Investigations Office has issued its report to the legislature, ending a nearly year-long process that looked at the operations, mandate, and progress of the IIO. While none of the conclusions and recommendations are too shocking, they do lay the groundwork for how the IIO will operate in the next few years. 

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

The IIO is mandated to conduct investigations into officer-related incidents of death or serious harm in order to determine whether or not an officer may have committed an offence. Here is a brief synopsis of what the report found and some of its important recommendations.

The Civilianization of the IIO 

The Committee's findings on how the IIO has done in moving towards its stated goal of a fully civilianized office (civilianization means the hiring of staff members who have never served for a police department) was a bit of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, the Committee found that the IIO had impressively pushed hard for civilianization and is reporting one of the fastest transitions of any independent investigations body around. On the other hand, the Committee seemed to bow to pressure placed on it by the IIO, the Police Complaint Commissioner, and some other stakeholders to relax the "five-year rule," which states that the IIO can not hire someone who has served as a police officer within the last five years.

This is important given the recent findings of a civilian monitor, which found that Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal violated the spirit of the legislation and attempted to get around this rule by appointing recently retired police as "special advisors" in the investigation into the death of Gregory Matters. While seemingly contradictory to the notion of civilianization, the recommendation to relax the rule is in tune with the major finding of the report -- that the IIO should not be sacrificing competence in the name of civilianization, while keeping total civilianization as the ultimate goal down the line.

However, the recommendation that Mr. Rosenthal report any such exemptions to the rule directly to the Ministry of Justice suggests the government is not happy with the way it occurred in the Matters case. 

Key Recommendation: 

"In exceptional cases, the Chief Civilian Director have the discretion to appoint investigators who were former police or law enforcement members in other jurisdictions or in British Columbia within the past five years in order to provide special expertise to complete effective investigations, and that, in such exceptional cases, the Chief Civilian Director be required to notify the Ministry of Justice and provide a justification for that appointment"

Expansion of the IIO's Mandate 

Pivot Legal Society and other stakeholders have been pushing for the eventual expansion of the IIO's mandate to include allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence by police.

Both Manitoba and Nova Scotia have independent investigations into these cases, and there is ample evidence from the United States to suggest that gender violence at the hands of the police is a real concern that must be addressed, especially when it is left to the family member of an officer to report the violence.

While the Committee agreed with this premise, and suggested further examination of this issue, it failed to provide any meaningful direction on how to do so. Most importantly it ignored the request made by Justice for Girls that investigation into how the mandate could be expanded must be driven by consultation with women's groups and organizations that serve victims of domestic and sexual violence, opting instead for a recommendation for a general review of the IIO at least every six years. 

Key Recommendation:


Internal Conflict and Allegations of Bad Management 

For the most part the Special Committee refused to directly address this issue, deferring instead to the specific review on this issue being conducted by the B.C. Public Service Agency. The Committee did however accept submissions that the IIO needs to be more accountable in its internal reporting, and required the Ministry of Justice to release findings of the review into IIO human resources issues. It also recommended that the IIO be required to release to the public all future reports done by a civilian monitor which look into the adequacy of IIO investigations. 

Key Recommendation: 

"The Ministry of Justice report publicly within one year of the presentation of the Committee's report on actions taken to address human resources issues at the Independent Investigations Office" 

Body-Worn Cameras 

If there is one surprise in the Special Committee's report it is this one. Coming virtually out of left field, the Committee chose not to address some of many other critical issues involving police practice in the province, but took on the mantle of body-worn video. Linking body-worn video to the operations of the IIO is a bit tenuous, as it has more to do with general accountability of the police rather than anything specific to the IIO's mandate, but it comes at a crucial time. As some departments engage in trials of body-worn video, and report difficulties in cost and storage, the Committee's recommendation to "aggressively pursue" the steps necessary to implement body-worn video signals a desire to solve the operational and privacy issues and come up with a plan. Successful implementation of body-worn video in multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. has proven it is possible, and this recommendation by the Committee suggests that the provincial government is likely to take it out of the hands of individual departments and examine its implementation on a larger scale. 

Key Recommendation:

"The provincial government aggressively pursue the steps necessary to implement the police use of body-worn cameras, in consultation with police and non-police stakeholders"