Head of B.C. police watchdog says lack of resources hampering ability to hold officers accountable
The head of the civilian agency responsible for investigating when someone is seriously injured or killed in an interaction with police in B.C. says the province hasn’t provided the resources for his team to do its job effectively.
Ron MacDonald, director of the Independent Investigations Office, currently oversees a team of 19 investigators and says there are 17 investigator positions unfilled at this time.
“I am concerned about the well-being of my investigators. They are hard-workers. They are excellent at what they do but they are stretched way too thin right now,” he said in an interview with CTV News. “My people are significantly overworked. Our case load has almost doubled and this year we saw a tripling in the number of officer-involved shootings than we normally see.”
For the fiscal year ending in March 2022, the IIO opened 193 investigations and the year before that it deployed 232 times.
MacDonald blames the staffing shortage for the length of time it is taking to complete complex investigations like the one involving Dale Culver.
The 35-year-old Indigenous man died after being tackled to the ground and pepper-sprayed by Prince George RCMP in 2017.
This week, almost six years after Culver’s death, two of the officers involved were charged with manslaughter and three others were charged with attempting to obstruct justice.
"I hope no other family has to wait this long for justice for their family member,” Culver’s daughter Lili Speed-Namox told CTV News.
The IIO has 90 open investigations right now and 38 of those involve a death – with two unresolved cases dating back to 2016.
The head of the national union representing RCMP officers says his members would like to see investigations completed in a timely manner, rather than have the possibility of charges hanging over their heads for years.
"None of this is good from a transparency perspective for the community, none of it's good for our membership and none of it is good for British Columbians,” said Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation. “So, the IIO needs to figure it out.”
MacDonald says he has raised his concerns with the province repeatedly over the past several years but has not gotten the additional resources he’s been asking for.
B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma declined a CTV News request for an interview, but she did provide a statement.
“I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Dale Culver. Preserving public trust in the impartiality of the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) while recruiting and retaining highly qualified investigators is of the utmost importance,” Sharma said. “I take the concerns raised by the IIO seriously and have already met with them to find solutions to how we can improve efficiencies and ensure that they can continue to do their important work.”
Temporary changes were made to the Police Act to remove restrictions related to hiring investigators who recently worked as police officers in B.C., but those changes expired in 2021.
MacDonald says that unless more significant changes are made that allow him to hire more investigators, his agency’s ability to hold police accountable will be compromised.
“I’m not encouraged by what I’ve heard and about how I’m going to be able to solve this situation,” MacDonald said.
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