The Smithers Chamber of Commerce welcomed members of the Independent Investigation Office of B.C. last Thursday with a luncheon at Pioneer Place to allow the organization, which has operated for nine months, to describe its mandate.
The IIO is one of five similar investigation offices in Canada and was initiated, in part, by Linda Bush, who lost her 22-year-old son, Ian, after he was shot by rookie RCMP Const. Paul Koester Oct. 29, 2005 while he was in-custody at the Houston, B.C. RCMP detachment.
Linda decided, after Const. Koester was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing for Ian’s death, to demand that a civilian led investigation unit be created in B.C. to ensure future investigations of alleged law enforcement misconduct can be as impartial as possible.
Richard Rosenthal, IIO chief civilian director, decided to join the organization for exactly the same reason, he said.
Rosenthal made sure to describe exactly when the IIO can take over an investigation.
“We have a mandate that is limited,” Rosenthal explained.
“If a police officer is involved in a death or life-threatening incident whether on or off-duty we get involved.”
There are specific instances under the term, critical incident, where the municipal or federal law enforcement agency must report to the IIO, Rosenthal added.
“If they don’t call us immediately they’re going to have to have an incredibly good explanation,” he said.
Rosenthal moved from Denver, Colorado, where he held a similar position, to be able to make a difference and hold police officers accountable to the citizens they are bound to serve, he said.
“I wanted to make sure that if I was going to come up here that I was going to have the opportunity to do something properly,” Rosenthal said.
The difference between what Rosenthal was doing in Denver and now with the IIO is the civilian-led element.
“In the U.S. this kind of thing doesn’t exist,” Rosenthal admitted.
Initiating the investigation unit was challenging, but also rewarding.
“From day one we had to be ready to roll out immediately,” he said about the Sept. 10, 2012 opening of the IIO.
The IIO has 28 officers to cover B.C. and 11 of them have never worked for a police-based employer, Rosenthal said.
“There are four teams of seven ready to deploy to any part of B.C.,” he said.
“That is if they aren’t already on a case.”
Since its inception the IIO has made considerable steps toward decreasing the time a decision regarding police misconduct can be reached.
“Previously these types of cases have taken two years to conclude in B.C. courts,” Rosenthal said.
“We have gotten it down to six to eight months, which was a remarkable improvement, but it is still not enough.
“But, that’s more than a year where families aren’t in limbo waiting for an outcome.”
Rosenthal cited the deaths, trials and inquiries of Robert Dziekanski and Frank Paul in the Lower Mainland as other cases that enabled his office to be formed.
Rosenthal considered a satellite office in the north in the early planning stages, but he and other decision makers decided against it.
“I wanted everyone under one roof,” Rosenthal said.
The IIO has investigated 21 cases since it opened last year and has closed 12, according to the IIO website.
Four of the investigations have been referred to B.C. Crown counsel and thus far no law enforcement officers have been found guilty of a crime by the IIO.