A new independent organization in B.C. has formed to investigate police oversight and police use of force.
Ralph Krenz, Stakeholder Relations and Senior Investigator, gave a public presentation at the Houston Friendship Centre last week Tuesday, to explain about Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C.
He said the organization started September 2012 under the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, as a result of the Frank Paul Inquiry and the Braidwood Inquiry.
The IIO runs mostly independent of the ministry, and is among the last police oversight organizations in Canada.
The first was in 1990 in Ontario and others are in Alberta, Nova Scotia and B.C., and Quebec is currently forming one.
“Pretty much right across Canada we have one form or another of oversight of police, so that police are not investigating themselves when there’s serious harm,” said Krenz.
Krenz says the two goals of the IIO are to be thorough and fair in their investigations and to improve timeliness.
“Even if you do a fair, thorough independent investigation, if it takes you two and half years to come out with the findings of the investigation, nobody wins,” said Krenz.
He says the IIO typically takes 30 to 90 days to finish an investigation and they hope to get faster as time goes on.
The IIO has 54 staff and it started with a group two thirds retired police investigators and one third civilians, with a mandate to phase out police investigators and “fully civilianize,” said Krenz.
“We had to start somewhere as a new organization, so we did have to bring in police to train civilians and bring them on board. But at the end of the day we are to become a civilian organization,” said Krenz.
The Braidwood Inquiry gave the IIO a five year time limit to phase out ex-police officers, but Krenz says he thinks it will take a little longer than that.
Asked about the demographics of the IIO staff, Krenz said they have 15 women, nine of whom are investigators, a few staff of Asian and East Indian decent, but no First Nations.
“I think that’s still a big hole in the organization,” said Krenz, adding that part of his job is to connect with First Nations about the IIO as he travels across northern B.C., presenting in communities and spreading awareness of the IIO.
When police-involved incidents of serious harm occur, police are required to notify the IIO immediately, he said.
After a short information exchange with police, the Chief Civilian Director (CCD) of the IIO, Richard Rosenthal, decides whether to send out an investigation crew.
The decision is based on two things: whether police action was involved and whether the incident counts as “serious harm,” which includes injuries that may result in death, injuries causing serious disfigurement (needing medical intervention), or substantial loss or impairment in mobility of the body or disfunction in an organ or limb.
“There are all these shades of grey in between… [and] we’re struggling with this definition to apply it in a consistent manner,” said Krenz.
If the IIO decides to investigate, police are required to secure and protect the scene until they arrive, Krenz said, adding that it could be six hours later in communities like Houston because of the travel time from Surrey offices to here.
The IIO have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with police, which requires police to notify the IIO about serious injury incidents, secure the scene until IIO arrives and provide specialized field services and forensic support where needed.
Also, witness officers are required to give the IIO an accurate and timely statement for their investigations, Krenz said.
IIO investigations have two outcomes: (1) officer is found to be lawful in their actions and the IIO gives a public report or (2) the IIO finds the officer may have committed the offence and refers the case to crown council.
“The CCD only has to form the opinion that the officer may have committed the offence, and then it goes to crown,” said Krenz, adding that after that it is left to crown to decide whether to proceed with the investigation.
Krenz says the IIO will then report on their website that the matter was referred and link people to the Crown Council.
If the officer is found to be lawful and within duty in causing serious harm, the IIO will release a public statement (via their website), which is typically a two to three page investigation summery listing the findings, applying the criminal code, and clearly laying out how the CCD came to their conclusion.
For more information see the IIO website at iiobc.ca.