RCMP watchdog says police must stop investigating themselves

By Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service August 11, 2009 9:01 AM

OTTAWA — The RCMP’s watchdog says it’s time to halt the practice of the federal police force investigating its own members in cases of serious injury or death.

Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, stops short, however, of recommending totally independent investigations with no police involvement.

In a report released Tuesday, Kennedy proposed a middle-ground approach to ensuring the integrity of investigations into potential criminal conduct by members of the RCMP.

Citing the need to appear impartial and above suspicion, Kennedy called for an enhanced civilian involvement in the investigations. He suggested embedding an observer from his commission in investigations involving death, assault causing bodily harm and sexual assault.

There should be absolutely no RCMP involvement in all cases involving death, he said. Those cases should be referred to an external police service or provincial criminal investigative body.

In cases of assault, the report said, there could be some leeway to involve an RCMP team specializing in member investigations.

Though the report gave the force high marks on several fronts, it found the RCMP behaved partially or entirely inappropriately in 68 per cent of the 28 cases reviewed. Among other things, it said 25 per cent of primary investigators identified themselves as “personally knowing” the member under investigation.

Appropriateness was determined by looking at actual or perceived conflicts of interest, appropriate reporting relationships and how proportionate the RCMP response was to the gravity of the incident.

Kennedy said a major gap in the system is the lack of national, mandatory requirements for the handling of criminal investigations. He urged the creation of a national RCMP registrar to co-ordinate the development of such a policy.

“While the intention of the RCMP requesting that member investigations be handled like any other investigation may be an honourable one (meaning without bias), the very nature of an investigation by one police officer into another is fundamentally different from the police investigation a member of the public for the exact same crime,” the report said.

“Police are held to higher account by the very nature of the work they do. Like other professionals that directly impact the safety and welfare of those they serve, there is a public expectation requiring that a higher standard of behaviour be upheld.”

The report is the culmination of a study launched almost two years ago into how the RCMP handled 28 cases involving accusations against one of their own, including 14 incidents of assault causing bodily harm, eight cases of sexual assault and six involving death.

The issue of police investigating police has become a hot topic because a number of high-profile cases have raised serious questions about the conduct of the RCMP officers at the scene.

One is the 2007 death of Polish visitor Robert Dziekanski, who died at Vancouver International Airport after being tasered by RCMP officers.

Another B.C. case that provoked debate involved the shooting death while in custody of Ian Bush, a 22-year-old mill worker in Houston, B.C. He was arrested in 2005 outside a local hockey rink for having an open beer and giving a false name to officers.

Kennedy’s final report is an echo of an earlier version of his findings that he shared with RCMP Commissioner William J.S. Elliott, but that was never made public.

In a response contained in the report, Elliott took issue with the suggestion that the RCMP had behaved inappropriately in a significant percentage of cases.

Elliott said, however, that criminal investigations of RCMP members “may necessitate” different procedures, and that his “personal preference” would be that the RCMP never investigate itself.

He said the problem is that sometimes there is no other agency in a position to do the investigation, including at the outset of some investigations when immediate action may be required.

The report’s findings relied on an in-depth review of eight cases, which included interviews with the RCMP officers involved.

Thirteen civilians refused to be interviewed or did not respond to the commissioner’s request.

The report quoted one family member associated with one of the files as saying: “It won’t do any good. (The RCMP members involved) have all been promoted or transferred out.”

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