Everyone knows that cops can not be trusted to police themselves any more than the general public can.
The province's police watchdog has taken a bite out of the provincial government for delaying "urgently needed" improvements to the way police investigate themselves.
Citing a Victoria police case as evidence of the need for reform, police complaints commissioner Dirk Ryneveld chastised the government for failing to fix the system during the spring sitting of the legislature.
"Despite [the government] having been well aware that the failure to introduce the amendments in the spring of 2008 would very likely imperil the amendments for at least a further year, the amendments were not introduced," Ryneveld said in his annual report, released Tuesday.
Now, with a fall sitting of the legislature in doubt, it could be at least 2009 before the government amends the Police Act, he said.
"I must also confess to some frustration that after all my hard work advocating reform, I may not see necessary reforms come to fruition during my term," said Ryneveld, whose six-year posting expires in February.
Deputy commissioner Bruce Brown said Ryneveld began pressing for changes at the outset of his term. Her included draft legislation in his 2004 annual report, and Josiah Wood later reinforced those recommendations in a sweeping review of B.C.'s police complaints system in February 2007.
Wood, now a provincial court judge, found nearly one in five complaints was poorly investigated by police, and that the more serious the allegation, the less likely it was to be thoroughly investigated.
B.C. civil rights advocates pointed to the findings as proof the police should be stripped of the right to investigate themselves, but Wood didn't go that far. He recommended Ryneveld's civilian watchdog role be given more power to oversee police complaint investigations as they are conducted.
Wood said Ryneveld should be able to advise or direct an investigating officer to take certain steps. If the advice isn't followed, he should have the power to hand the investigation to another agency, Wood said.
He also recommended changes to compel police officers to provide a statement and submit to an interview within five days of a request to do so.
Ryneveld highlighted the case of 23-year-old Thomas McKay, who suffered a serious head injury while in Victoria police custody in 2004. Ryneveld ordered a public hearing earlier this year after disagreeing with the findings of an internal probe by Victoria police, which wrapped up in November 2007.
"It is perhaps telling that the Police Act system in this case resulted in the public hearing being ordered four years after the event despite the fact that the review by my office took something less than three weeks," Ryneveld said. "Whatever the outcome of the public hearing, the delays, and the reasons for those delays, are sufficient in themselves to emphasize the need for Police Act reform."
Solicitor-General John van Dongen insisted the government remains committed to acting on Wood's and Ryneveld's recommendations. He said the legislation was a "work in progress" that involves a "very complex" rewrite of the entire Police Act.
"We had it in the throne speech as a priority item," he said. "But we didn't feel ready to implement it in the last session.
"We have said that we support the Wood report. We're going to implement the Wood report. But we are consulting with police and others to make sure that we do it in a way that's going to be operational for everybody."
NDP critic Mike Farnworth called the time lag "pathetic."
The fact is we're going into an election in May," he said. "It's highly unlikely that there'll any legislation in the spring. Perhaps if the government stuck to a fall calendar, instead of being arrogant and saying there's no need for a fall session -- well, this is a pressing piece of business that we could be doing."
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