PENTICTON - The man responsible for civilian oversight into critical police incidents discussed his mandate with members of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen board on March 19.
Chief Civilian Director of the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. Richard Rosenthal was on a tour of regional police facilities and local governments to talk about the IIO’s purpose, operations and investigative structure as part of a community engagement strategy.
Rosenthal, a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, was appointed B.C.’s first Chief Civilian Director of Independent Investigations Office following public inquiries over the handling of two critical police incidents in B.C. - the death of Frank Paul on December 6, 1998 and the death of Robert Dziekanski on October 14, 2007.
“We are one part of the patchwork of civilian oversight for the RCMP in the province,” Rosenthal told the board.
“Our part is very specific, in that we are responsible for conducting critical incident investigations, which means any incident involving an on or off duty RCMP officer, or actually any police officer in British Columbia who has caused death or serious harm to any other person.”
Rosenthal said that could mean anything from an officer involved shooting to an in-custody death, serious injury, use of force including taser, motor vehicle incidents, on or off duty officer causing death or serious harm. He said public faith in the ability of the police to police themselves was a main reason for the creation of the Independent Investigations Office, noting the police in B.C. supported such a move. He said police in B.C. supported the creation of the office even before the Braidwood inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death recommended it.
The first chief civilian director in B.C., Rosenthal’s background included 15 years as Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, worked as Portland, Oregon’s first director of the independent police review division and also hired as Denver’s first independent monitor, with jurisdiction over the city and county police and sheriff departments. He uncovered a police scandal in Los Angeles that cost that city one billion dollars in liability. He came up to B.C. when he saw the creation of the Independent Investigations Office program.
Princeton Director Frank Armitage asked Rosenthal about his citizenship status and his desire to work in Canada.
“One of the reasons I came up is because Canada is a true leader in this type of program. Elsewhere, other than Northern Ireland and England, everywhere else in the Western World, critical investigations into the police are the province of the police,” he said, adding B.C.’s program was based on Ontario’s. He said he didn’t expect to get hired, but as an American with no prior dealings with the RCMP or Canadian civil rights groups, and no preconceptions, his qualifications turned out to be a “very good fit”. He sees the job as a great professional opportunity. Rosenthal also noted he had landed immigrant status and permanent residency, and could apply for citizenship in three years.
The IIO has 50 full time staff and had a budget of $8.2 million in 2014. No Mounties currently serving are used in the investigative teams and the IIO's long-term mandate is to be manned only by investigators who have never served as police officers. Beginning with two thirds former police and one third civilians, the IIO is now roughly 50-50 former police and civilian investigators, Rosenthal said.
“Again, the long term goal is ultimately to civilianize. How long that will take, however, only the future will tell,” he said.
Since the inception of the Independent Investigations Office on September 10, 2012, locally, there have been 11 notifications and two cases locally, one in Princeton and one in Penticton.
“In the immediate local area, only two cases where we have asserted jurisdiction were uses of force, referred to Crown, and both resulted in clear statements,” Rosenthal said.
He also noted that Kelowna’s statistics included "quite a few more cases, including pursuits resulting in serious harm as well as other significant cases.”
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