Watchdog slams B.C. police chiefs over officer-involved crashes

B.C.’s police watchdog has slammed the province’s police chiefs for trying to tell it how to deal with officers involved in motor vehicle incidents.

The B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police wrote a letter to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner in March raising concerns about two issues: the watchdog directing police departments to issue violation tickets to officers involved in motor vehicle incidents and concerns about the watchdog automatically treating motor vehicle violations by police officers as offences under the Police Act, like discreditable conduct or neglect of duty.

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“It is necessary for both the BCAMCP and the OPCC to clarify and agree upon the appropriate approach to investigating motor vehicle incidents that are truly accidental in nature, resulting in damage or injury,” stated the letter by Delta police Chief Neil Dubord, president of the association.

The OPCC couldn’t have disagreed more, according to a response this week by deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods.

Reminding Dubord that the police watchdog was created to provide independent civilian oversight over municipal police in B.C., Woods called the letter “an affront” that “undermines the fundamental principles of civilian oversight of police: independence and accountability.”

Woods said a review of records from the past eight years turned up no evidence of OPCC staff directing police departments to issue violation tickets to officers and that there is no legal basis for the watchdog to tell departments to do that.

And when it comes to deciding whether a motor vehicle offence by an officer should also be considered an offence under the Police Act, Woods said the police watchdog uses a case-by-case approach based on the circumstances and the public interest.

“You, Chief Dubord, are in an excellent position to validate our practice and process, as I recently dealt with you directly in relation to a motor vehicle incident involving one of your Delta police members,” said Woods, taking aim at the Delta chief directly.

Dubord said he was taken aback by Woods’ response.

“The letter came from the chiefs themselves and, yes, we were surprised,” said Dubord. “Our letter really was just to clarify whether or not traffic accidents should be considered a public trust investigation or whether or not it’s a Motor Vehicle Act investigation. We were just seeking some clarity.

“This was not questioning authority. We are highly supportive of oversight and independence and the ability for us to have someone who investigates all public trust complaints.”

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner oversees about 3,500 municipal and special municipal police officers (RCMP officers are overseen by a different body, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission).

Since a change in legislation in 2010, Woods said the commissioner has reviewed only 32 incidents involving driving offences by police officers and ordered investigations into only 12 allegations of misconduct.

Given those relatively low numbers, Woods said he was at a loss to understand why the chiefs had raised the issue and called their decision to write the letter “imprudent.”

The next time they disagree with the police watchdog’s approach, Woods advised the chiefs to either convince government to change the Police Act, file a petition for a judicial review in B.C. Supreme Court or convince two-thirds of the legislature to fire the police complaint commissioner, Stan Lowe.

With files from Ian Jacques

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