12th and Cambie: Internal affairs

His name is Richard Rosenthal.

Soon, he will be more well known than he is now.

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As my colleagues and I reported last week, the B.C. government appointed the former Denver, Colo. police watchdog as chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office.

That's the office that will be tasked with investigating police incidents in B.C. resulting in serious harm or death. Rosenthal expects to open the office by mid-2012.

While welcomed by municipal police chiefs and their RCMP counterparts, VPD Police Chief Jim Chu is on record of wanting more bang out of the newly created office for the taxpayers' buck.

That bang would see the government expand the mandate of the new agency to handle all complaints against police, not just the serious allegations.

Here are Chu's reasons for his request:

ù Although Chu believes police officers are able to conduct competent, unbiased and effective internal investigations, he says a civilian agency investigating all police complaints will enhance public confidence.

ù One agency handling all complaints would save the VPD and other police departments-which are funded by taxpayers-a whole bundle of cash in conducting internal investigations.

As Chu pointed out in October 2010, the cost of the VPD's internal affairs' investigations increased by 46 per cent or $804,000 annually, since more onerous changes were made to the Police Act.

ù Having all complaints handled by one agency would mean the likely demise of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner-and its budget. The OPCC investigates conduct issues at municipal departments. (The RCMP's federal commission for public complaints will continue to investigate conduct issues involving Mounties).

So what's Premier Christy Clark have to say about Chu's request?

"The hard, cold fact about it is that it would have taken a lot longer to do that," Clark told the Courier at last week's news conference at the B.C. government's offices at Canada Place. "I promised open government, I promised that that was the change I was going to bring and I don't think British Columbians want to wait. It may be somewhere we get to-it may be where the province ultimately ends up-but I think British Columbians wanted to see independent oversight sooner rather than later."

The B.C. government agreed to establish the Independent Investigations Office following recommendations of the Davies Commission of Inquiry into the death of Frank Paul and the Braidwood Commission of Inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski.

Rosenthal told reporters that his office will not examine historical cases, despite requests from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and family members whose relatives have died at the hands of police.

The estimated budget for the new agency is $10 million annually, with Rosenthal earning about $200,000 a year. He has the discretion to hire ex-police officers as investigators, as long as they have not served as police officers in B.C., or in the case of members of the RCMP, not within the past five years.

The agency will have the power to recommend criminal charges to Crown counsel. If a complaint is registered against the new agency, the OPCC has jurisdiction to investigate.


Twitter: @Howellings

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