THE Annual Report of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, tabled with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly this week, provides an overview of misconduct involving municipal police officers in B.C.
Investigations of police officers for misconduct are highlighted with penalties ranging from verbal warnings to suspension without pay and demotion. Three police officers were dismissed during the period covered by the report. Other areas noted include “service and policy” matters referred to police boards such as the use of “Street Checks”, the treatment of prisoners and the deployment of police officers for private activities.
The Annual Report, including appendices, is available at: https://opcc.bc.ca/reports/annual-report/
“Incidents of misconduct by municipal police officers in British Columbia remain a small fraction of the many interactions between the police and the public every day. However, police officers are provided with extraordinary powers over citizens and our democratic principles demand that they be accountable for the use of those powers to an impartial body fully independent of governments and the police themselves,” said Clayton Pecknold, Police Complaint Commissioner.
Highlights from the Report:
* From April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019, there were 1,326 files opened by the OPCC involving 14 police agencies. This marks a 15% increase from the 2017/18 reporting period.
* Of 1,326 files opened, 403 related to reported injuries to persons as a result of police actions representing 36% increase from the 2017/18 reporting period. A significant number of injuries related to police dog bites and “empty hand” techniques (use of force without the aid of weapons).
* The Commissioner made 79 orders for investigation into police misconduct representing an increase of 65% from the 2017/18 reporting period. Of these, the majority (68%) were made at the request of a police department.
* Overall complaints from the public referred to as “Register Complaints” saw a 7% decrease from the prior year with the OPCC receiving 487 complaints from the public.
* The rate of complaints from the public about municipal police conduct has remained relatively stable the past five years.
* The Police Complaint Commissioner is the civilian, Officer of the Legislature overseeing complaints, investigations and discipline involving municipal police in British Columbia operating independently of governments and the police themselves.
* The Police Complaint Commissioner may accept complaints from the public or order investigations into allegations of police misconduct.
* The Police Complaint Commissioner may also refer certain decisions to retired judges for adjudication, call public hearings, refer matters to Crown Counsel for consideration of prosecution and make recommendations to Police Boards or to government regarding policies, practices or systemic issues that may contribute to the misconduct.
* The Police Complaint Commissioner is required under the Police Act to table a report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly once a year. The Commissioner may also issue information reports and statistical information throughout the year. For more information see: https://opcc.bc.ca/reports/statistics/
A CASE STUDY
Officer uses position as a police officer to engage in “predatory” behaviour towards women
* Discreditable conduct
* Corrupt practice
Background / circumstances
An example of allegations of Discreditable Conduct and Corrupt Practice is evident in a case involving a victim of intimate partner violence who received inappropriate photographs from a West Vancouver Police Department (WVPD) police officer involved in the investigation. After requesting the Commissioner initiate an investigation into this allegation the WVPD was tasked with carrying out this investigation with oversight by the OPCC.
Investigation / outcome
The investigation revealed that the police officer’s conduct spanned six years and involved women that he met and communicated with while on duty, using his position of trust as a police officer to develop a sexual relationship with 11 women. For all but one of the 11 women, a power imbalance existed and the women were considered to be vulnerable. The pattern of behaviour by this officer was deemed to be predatory in nature.
The officer also misused police department equipment such as departmental cell phones and email by sending sexually explicit and otherwise inappropriate photographs, messages, and written communications to these women.
In addition, he used police databases to contact the women for personal reasons which was a breach of their privacy and departmental policy.
The Deputy Chief Constable of the WVPD concluded that the police officer committed a total of 11 allegations of Discreditable Conduct and 14 allegations of Corrupt Practice for unauthorized use of police facilities / resources.
Disciplinary or corrective measures imposed
The Deputy Chief Constable found that the police officer breached the public and police department’s trust to such a degree that anything short of dismissal would be unworkable, bring the administration of police discipline into disrepute, significantly harm the reputation of the WVPD and policing in general, and not serve the public interest.
The Commissioner confirmed the Deputy Chief Constable’s decision and determined that a public hearing or review on the record was not required. The police officer retired prior to the discipline hearing and did not attend, but his employment records reflect that he was dismissed from the WVPD.
In 2018/2019, three police officers from various departments were dismissed following an investigation into their conduct under the Police Act, compared to two police officers in the previous year.
Even if a police officer retires or resigns from the police department during the proceedings, the investigation will continue and their employment records will reflect that they were dismissed from the police department.