Pickton case botched by failure of leadership: report
Published Sunday, November 20, 2011 7:44PM PST
Police weren't malicious in their failure to catch serial killer Robert Pickton for years, but rather failed because of a lack of leadership, concludes a report to be presented at the missing women's inquiry.
In general investigators on the ground were trying their best, but were stymied by poor resources, decisions and flawed assumptions about the case, according to the report by Peel Regional Police's Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans.
"A lot of good work was done, but mistakes were made," wrote Evans. "In my opinion, the mistakes were not made out of malice, but rather resulted from a lack of leadership and commitment."
While investigators like Const. Dave Dickson and Det. Const. Lori Shenher from the VPD, and the Coquitlam RCMP's Cpl. Mike Connor worked well together and advanced the case, managers from the VPD and the RCMP couldn't see past their own organizational priorities.
"Someone in authority, either in the RCMP or the VPD, needed to champion a co-ordinated effort to these investigations," Evans wrote.
Robert Pickton was convicted of murdering six women, but evidence presented in court suggested at least 33 women were disposed of at his Port Coquitlam farm.
Evans's report was commissioned by the missing women's inquiry and is set to be made public Monday. It is the first sweeping review of what was not done by the agencies involved in the actual investigation, the Vancouver Police and the RCMP.
The case was very difficult to solve and unlike anything the officers had seen before, Evans wrote. Without bodies, many officers were reluctant to designate the crime a murder, she added.
"Throughout the review was the theme of ‘no body, no evidence, no crime'" which, in my opinion, created an excuse for ignoring the problem which permeated both the VPD and the RCMP," Evans wrote.
On the Vancouver police side of the investigation, a "turf war" between senior officers was one reason that the investigation was derailed before it could discover what was causing women to go missing from the Downtown Eastside.
A Missing Women's Working Group had been set up under Insp. Gary Greer, who was the commander of District 2, which includes the Downtown Eastside. But Insp. Fred Biddlecombe was in charge of Major Crime, and argued the investigation should be his responsibility.
After a heated discussion – remembered as "a temper tantrum" and a "hissy fit" by Det. Insp. Kim Rossmo – Greer surrendered control of the group to Biddlecombe. Biddlecombe dissolved the group, the report said.
"I believe Insp. Biddlecombe demanded ownership of the Missing Women but did not recognize the seriousness of the issue," wrote Evans.
She is also critical of then-Police Chief Bruce Chambers for allowing the personality conflict to get in the way of a murder investigation. "I believe (Chambers) did not recognize or take ownership of the Missing Women issue during his tenure," Evans wrote.
On the Coquitlam RCMP side of the investigation, officers amassed "incredible" information from four informants who were concerned Pickton was killing women. However, officers disagreed about whether an informant was credible.
Rather than investigate further, an officer was transferred and management at Coquitlam RCMP "ignored" the issue, Evans wrote. Officers were officially investigating the file but for months nothing happened on the case, and officers didn't even prepare for an interview with the serial killer.
"The information that various police officers received regarding Pickton was specific, unique, and incredible," Evans wrote. "(It) should have prompted investigators to continue the investigation until the information was confirmed or disproved."
And at the provincial joint task force level, called Project Evenhanded, officers came late to the realization that Pickton was still killing, Evans wrote.
Someone needed to take control and guide the investigation, she said.
"The VPD were looking for their missing women. Coquitlam RCMP and (the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit) were working on other priority files. Project Evenhanded was conducting a historic review of violent crimes. No one was looking for a serial killer. No one was focused on Pickton," she wrote.