Changes needed to prevent another B.C. serial killer: profiler
Published Monday, August 23, 2010 3:57PM PDT Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 11:30PM PDT
Metro Vancouver's police forces made the same mistakes that other disorganized jurisdictions made around the world in allowing a serial killer to slip between their fingers and there will be more such murders if changes aren't made, a criminal profiler predicts.
Kim Rossmo, who worked on the missing women's investigation that eventually caught Robert Pickton, noted a Vancouver police report into the investigation shows there may have been two other serial killers working in the Vancouver area at the same time as Pickton.
No one else has been arrested for those unsolved murders.
When the report on the Pickton investigation was released Friday, Vancouver's Police Chief Jim Chu said it could never happen again.
But Rossmo said Monday many reports into serial killers such as Clifford Olson in British Columbia, Paul Bernardo in Ontario, the Green River Killer in Seattle, the Yorkshire Ripper in northern England and now Pickton, point to cross-jurisdictional weaknesses where different police departments allow the killers to continue murdering.
In Pickton's case, the 400-page Vancouver Police report said police had enough information to arrest him in 1999, yet he wasn't arrested until 2002.
In that time, 13 women disappeared from the city's seedy Downtown Eastside and the DNA of 11 women was eventually found on the Pickton pig farm in Port Coquitlam.
"I think that right now, we have unsolved serial murder cases in the Lower Mainland," Rossmo said. "I think that's one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed by the provincial government."
The Vancouver police report said that in 2001, retired RCMP Insp. Ron MacKay reported it was "quite feasible" there could be more than one serial killer operating in the region, particularly when the time frame was spread over a decade.
More than 60 women disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside going as far back as the 1980's. Pickton was convicted of killing six of those women, but he confessed to an undercover officer that he killed 49 and was planning on stopping at 50.
Rossmo said there have been a lot of changes in the way Metro Vancouver police forces investigate crimes since the Pickton investigation, so it's unlikely the same type of serial murder could happen again.
"But there could be something different that plays out. I think this is one of the purposes of (the) report that points to structural weaknesses that need to be dealt with and that need to be improved."
Rossmo, who's now the director at Texas State University's geospatial intelligence program which also works with the U.S. military, said training, police standards and proper structure will minimize the risk of allowing a serial killer to go on killing.
But he said that proper structure isn't in place in Metro Vancouver.
"There's no where else in Canada that has so many different police forces covering one metropolitan area," he said.
"It's just not how you'd want to design a policing system. You have a problem, like women going missing in one jurisdiction, and. . .the suspect is another jurisdiction policed by a different agency. That's just not a good set up."
When police released the report, Rossmo was singled out as "uncannily accurate" in pin-pointing that a serial killer was preying on women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
His assessment was rejected by police at the time and Rossmo eventually left the Vancouver department under bitter circumstances.
Rossmo said he was encouraged that Vancouver's department would do a full-scale examination into what went wrong in the investigation.
"That's how you get better. You find out what went wrong, figure out solutions and then implement them."
But he said the idea of having multiple policing agencies in the Lower Mainland is "flawed."
"This case, the missing women's case, the Pickton pig farm case, is just an example of how bad it can get. "
Rossmo also likes the idea of an inquiry looking into what went wrong in the investigation.
The B.C. government has said there will be some kind of probe into the case, but it hasn't said yet what form that will take.
The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter has said there will be no justice for the women if the province avoids a full public inquiry and instead asks a judge to review the investigation.
The group says it wants the ability to question the official versions of the RCMP, the Vancouver Police department and the provincial government on the case.
Dave Dickson, a former officer with the Vancouver Police Department who was one of the first to sound the alarm that sex workers were disappearing from the Downtown Eastside, dismisses the notion that a regional force would fix anything.
Dickson said even within the Vancouver department, officers at different detachments or in different investigative units didn't collaborate.
"Everybody seems to think the information-sharing will be way better, but it won't," Dickson said in an interview.
"If you don't share information amongst yourselves, why would you think that one police force across B.C. is going to share information?"
He said instead of combining police departments, the existing forces should focus on integrated investigative units such as the one that now handles gang activity in the Lower Mainland.
Dickson has little doubt another serial killer could prey on sex-workers in the Downtown Eastside today, but he said that has more to do with the poverty and drug addiction that fuels prostitution in the area than the police.
"It's not just the police departments' fault -- we have to look at the government and everybody. These women were out there long before they ever came into contact with their first police officer," he said.
"That's the bigger picture, and it could still happen again."