The annual report of the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner of British Columbia was released this week, detailing a number of disturbing incidents involving law enforcement – including one in which a Vancouver police officer had sex with a high school student in another country.
The officer, who is not named in the report, was initially charged with sexually assaulting the teenager while on vacation in March 2018, but was eventually acquitted.
An internal investigation still determined that the member of the Vancouver Police Department had taken “no reasonable steps to determine the age” of the girl, which amounted to dishonorable conduct punishable by demotion to rank. second class constable.
The OPCC report includes findings from dozens of investigations concluded between April 2021 and March 2022, many of which began years earlier.
Also during this period, 735 new complaints were filed against the police across the province, an increase of 26% over the previous year. Of these, the OCCp assigned 261 for investigation or attempted resolution, which is about the same number as the previous year.
MONITORING A DISTANT SPOUSE WITH GPS
Another alarming case of misconduct described in the report involved an Abbotsford Police Department officer who assaulted and harassed his estranged wife over a six-month period during the breakdown of their marriage.
The officer, also not named in the document, placed a GPS tracker on his wife’s vehicle twice and subjected her to “unwanted communications” via text, email, notes and phone calls.
He also entered her home while she was away, improperly accessed a police database, and “investigated her ex-spouse in violation of department policy,” according to the report.
An internal investigation launched in 2017 resulted in a recommendation that the officer be suspended for 16 days without pay – a sentence the OCCP deemed insufficient, given the “serious, sustained and deliberate” nature of his behavior. An arbitrator finally decided to increase the length of his unpaid suspension to 75 days.
BRUTER FAMILY DURING WELLNESS ASSESSMENT
A 2016 investigation saw two Vancouver police officers force their way into a family’s home, where they brutalized a father, punched his son and threw his daughter to the ground.
Officers – also unidentified by the OPCC – were carrying out a health check around two hours after a neighbor called and accused the father of slapping his wife.
The police broke into the house without a warrant, where they allegedly “punched, kicked and beat (the father) repeatedly with a truncheon, elbows, legs and a whim,” according to the OPCC report.
The man also complained that the officers punched his son at least three times in the face. The incident ended with the husband, wife and son being arrested, held overnight and charged with assault – charges that were eventually stayed due to unreasonable delays in the prosecution.
An arbitrator found the officers unlawfully entered the property and ended up using excessive force as a result of “unreasonable and reckless” actions, noting they were not responding to an ongoing assault at the time.
One of the officers was demoted and the other was suspended for eight days, and both were ordered to undergo training on use of force, grounds for arrest, de-escalation and responding to reports of domestic violence.
DELETE VIDEO AFTER HANDCUFFS WRONG MAN
There was also a misconduct case in 2020 in which an officer deleted a potentially damaging video recording of a cellphone authorities had seized from an innocent man.
The incident, which also took place in Abbotsford, came as officers responded to a burglary at a local business and mistakenly identified a person working in the area as a suspect.
Police accused the worker of being ‘confrontal’ and non-compliant, leading two officers to draw their guns and point them in his direction as he recorded them on his phone, according to the OPCC report . A third officer was also present carrying a shotgun.
Police placed the man in handcuffs and an officer took his cellphone and deleted the video – something the OPCC described as gross misconduct that brought “serious scrutiny and discredit” to the Department of officer.
The anonymous officer was suspended for five days, in part because he reported his own misconduct to a supervisor shortly after deleting the video.
THE COMMISSIONER STRESSES THE NEED FOR INDEPENDENCE
In the report, Police Complaints Commissioner Clayton Pecknold notes ongoing conversations about policing reform in British Columbia, including the push for increased accountability, and highlights the importance of oversight in law enforcement.
“Police institutions are strong and consistent advocates for their interests, with considerable access to the corridors of power within the levels of government,” Pecknold said in an introductory message. “This access is often hidden from public view and far exceeds the access available to the average British Columbian, especially those who are vulnerable or marginalized.”
But the commissioner also warns against political interference in the work of the OCCp, arguing that independence from government and law enforcement influence is crucial to the complaints process , which he describes as “necessary to protect the overall public confidence in the police”.
“Police in Canada derives its legitimacy from the consent of the public to be monitored. Canadians must therefore be confident that police powers are exercised impartially and in accordance with the law, regardless of partisanship or privilege,” Peckinold said. “That trust is underpinned by transparency.”
CALLS FOR GREATER TRANSPARENCY
Lack of transparency around cases of police misconduct was one of several issues identified by an all-party committee tasked with recommending reforms to British Columbia’s police law earlier this year.
The committee’s report included calls for a searchable database of police misconduct cases, including from the Department of Public Safety.
UBC’s Innocence Project has raised concerns that a lack of access to police misconduct records can “perpetuate wrongful convictions and encourage future police misconduct because the misconduct is hidden from the public eye.” discovery and public scrutiny”.
The Native Courtworker and Counseling Association of BC told the committee that some officers “continue to serve in the community from which they were allegedly victimized because the results of police criminal investigations are not made public.”
The OCCp currently only releases information about misconduct investigations in limited circumstances, including when cases are referred to a retired judge for determination.
For the most part, officers’ names are never made public, even when complaints are found to be substantiated – unlike teachers and nurses in British Columbia, who are routinely publicly identified for a wide variety of misconduct.