POLITICS

Report calls for review of B.C. police watchdog after internal complaints

02/23/2015 06:58 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - A legislative committee is calling on the British Columbia government to review the inner-workings of its independent police oversight agency, as complaints of "operational dysfunction" and high staff turnover overshadow the organization.

The Independent Investigations Office opened in 2012 with a mandate to investigate cases in which people are seriously injured or killed by police officers. Its creation followed several high-profile cases involving in-custody deaths.

But the agency has suffered from significant human-resources problems that could threaten the office's ability to do its job, says an all-party legislative committee's report, which was released Monday.

The report notes 15 employees quit in the office's first two years of operation, which the agency's civilian director, Richard Rosenthal, acknowledged was due in part to conflict within the agency.

"Primary areas of concern include: a lack of confidence in senior leadership," says the committee's report, citing the findings of the agency's own reviews.

Other problems identified in the report include: "Cultural conflict between employees having backgrounds in a police culture and staff from a public service culture; the need for better conflict resolution and communication; and requirements to improve administrative processes and directives."

The government's Public Service Agency is already investigating a series of employee complaints.

The committee's report recommends the Justice Ministry review human-resources practices within the agency and report back in a year to outline what has been done to address the problems.

The report notes Rosenthal has taken steps to implement previous recommendations from the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton declined to comment on the specific complaints, saying those are best left to the Public Service Agency, but she said the Independent Investigations Office does a good job.

"I have confidence in the office," she said following the report's release.

"It's doing a good job for the citizens of B.C."

Mike Farnworth of the Opposition NDP said the Liberal government needs to act immediately.

"Now that we've got this report, I think it needs to have immediate attention in terms of what changes can be put in place now," said Farnworth.

Farnworth acknowledged some issues could require legislative changes to address, and he said the government should make that a priority.

Other recommendations for the provincial government include:

— Aggressively pursuing the use of body-worn cameras for police officers.

— In exceptional cases, slightly relaxing rules that prevent police officers who have been out of law enforcement for less than five years from being appointed as investigators.

— Routine reviews of the office's work every six years by a legislative committee.