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Vancouver police officer caught drinking and driving sought 'preferential treatment,' says complaint office

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B.C.’s police complaints office has concluded seven investigations of municipal police officers caught drinking and driving or driving while impaired, and among them was an officer who identified himself as a member of the Vancouver Police Department in hopes of favourable treatment.

Details of the substance-fuelled behaviour were released Nov. 4 in a supplementary document to the most recent annual report from B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

More than half of the incidents included Vancouver Police Department officers, and one each came from Abbotsford Police Department, Delta Police Department, and New Westminster Police Department.

“When we have those people that are in that very important position of protecting the public then engaging in this activity themselves, it raises some serious questions and causes a lot of concern,” said Sarah Leamon, a Vancouver-based criminal lawyer.

Among the Vancouver police officers investigated was an off-duty officer who sought “preferential treatment.” The Vancouver officer was pulled over in November 2019 after an RCMP officer saw him leave a pub and drive away in his car. He failed a breath test twice.

“The respondent member (from the Vancouver Police Department) also identified himself as a police officer to the RCMP officer during the incident and sought preferential treatment,” reads the OPCC report.

The officer who had been drinking later “accepted full responsibility for his actions” and was disciplined for a total of six days without pay for drinking and driving, and for identifying himself as a police officer to seek favourable treatment. His driver’s license was also rescinded for three months, and his car impounded for a month.

'IT KILLS PEOPLE'

“This is an intolerable act. It kills people. It injures people. It’s not accepted,” said Andrew Muir, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada. “It’s very disappointing when police officers get charged with impaired driving or other types of crimes because the public has the expectation that the police are there to uphold the law and also charge people with these types of crimes and offences. And so it’s very disappointing.”

The OPCC handles complaints against police officers from the province’s 12 municipal police forces and three other law enforcement agencies, overseeing a total of about 3,500 officers. The OPCC does not handle complaints about B.C.’s approximately 6,800 RCMP officers, who work in regions and cities that don’t have their own police force.

Another complaint that the OPCC investigated was about a Special Municipal Constable, employed by the Vancouver Police Department. The constable was suspended for 12 days without pay for multiple off-duty violations related to drinking and driving, driving with an invalid license and driving without vehicle insurance.

The constable later pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of impaired driving and he resigned from the department.

B.C. PENALTIES LAG

Muir is not happy with the penalties handed down by OPCC for officers caught driving under the influence and says B.C. lags behind other provinces in terms of enforcement.

“A common one used by the Ontario Provincial Police is (officers caught driving under the influence) are demoted in rank for a year,” he said. “And that causes a substantial reduction in pay and it delivers the message for a long period of time.”

The disciplinary records for some of the incidents make reference to the fact that drinking and driving is particularly troublesome among police officers because they are the ones who enforce the issue in the public.

In the case of a Vancouver Police Department officer who was suspended without pay for one day for impaired driving, the report says that those who disciplined the officer “found that the public does not tolerate persons who drink and drive and that intolerance is compounded when the person is an off-duty police officer.”

A fourth incident involved a Vancouver police officer who was badly injured after crashing a motorcycle in July 2017. A few minutes before the crash, a person witnessed them driving the motorcycle “aggressively,” according to the OPCC report.

While no other vehicles were involved in the crash, “as a result of the collision the member sustained significant injuries,” it reads. The officer, who had been off-duty at the time of the incident, was suspended without pay for five days for impaired driving. In addition to the disciplinary measures coming from the police department, the BC Prosecution Service approved two charges related to impaired driving. However, the officer was later acquitted.

“There is a robust system of police oversight in British Columbia that holds police officers accountable for misconduct,” Vancouver Police said in a statement to CTV News Vancouver. “We support that oversight and respect the outcome of the OPCC’s independent investigations.”

In Abbotsford, an off-duty officer was pulled over for driving with a flat tire, and then investigated for driving while impaired. The officer was found to be “impaired by the use of prescription drugs” in the October 2018 incident and disciplined with a three-day suspension without pay for the “discreditable conduct.” They were also given an immediate roadside driving prohibition.

In October 2020, a Delta Police Department officer who was off-duty on long-term leave was caught drinking and driving. The officer had “attended a restaurant and consumed an unknown quantity of alcohol over approximately four hours before driving home,” reads the report.

An officer nearby, who was conducting road safety enforcement, saw the officer’s dangerous driving.

“(An on-duty) officer observed the member leave the parking lot and fail to properly navigate a left turn, resulting in the vehicle crossing a solid line.”

The traffic enforcement officer issued a three-day immediate roadside driving prohibition to the Delta officer and officials later disciplined them with a two-day suspension without pay. The officials who dealt with the complaint “noted that impaired driving is a serious concern and that impaired driving enforcement is a pillar of police strategy to keep the public safe.”

CTV News Vancouver reached out to the four police departments whose officers were disciplined, but did not hear back from any before deadline. 

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