COLUMN: Independence is required

Why do police continue to have the power to investigate the actions of someone who is working for them?

A fatal crash involving a semi-truck and a pedestrian on Langley Bypass last Wednesday morning, just inside the Surrey border, raises far more questions than the answers provided thus far.

Why do police continue to have the power to investigate the actions of someone who is working for them, when we have an Independent Investigations Office (IIO) which is supposed to remove blatant conflicts of interest?

This particular incident involved a civilian contractor who does regular work for police agencies. He was working for Surrey RCMP, investigating the circumstances of a deadly crash involving a truck and a police cruiser driven by Surrey RCMP Const. Adrian Oliver on Nov. 12, 2012, at the corner of 64 Avenue and 148 Street.

Last Wednesday, the contractor was using a semi-truck as part of the work he was doing related to the police investigation.

A few hours later, the truck was heading eastbound when it struck a 37-year-old Langley man in the 19500-block of Langley Bypass.

The driver did not stop. Police put out a public plea for information, and a short time later, the truck was located. Soon afterwards, it was traced to the contractor.

Surrey RCMP deserve credit for quickly letting the public know that the suspect is a contractor who was working for them on a case involving the death of an RCMP officer. This type of transparency has not always been on display from police.

Surrey RCMP also stated that, because the man was a contractor who worked for them, the investigation would be observed by another police agency. While that is a step toward making this an arm’s length investigation, it is far too tentative.

We have seen from the Robert Dziekanski case, and numerous others, that police cannot investigate incidents involving fellow officers and remain 100-per-cent objective. That isn’t a criticism. It’s human nature.

Because of the Dziekanski case and others, the province set up the IIO. Thus far, it has been called in to a number of cases, many of them quite minor. This is exemplary. When police officers are involved in an assault, crash or shooting death, it makes sense that someone from outside be given the power to investigate.

The legislation setting up the IIO did not make allowances for the agency to investigate civilian police employees (those who are not officers), or contractors doing work for police agencies. Yet it would seem logical the same conflicts of interest which have caused so much public concern would be present when RCMP are tasked with probing a fatal crash involving someone working for them.

This is particularly true when the contractor is doing work on a case involving the death of a fellow RCMP officer.

The death of Oliver prompted a great outpouring of support for Surrey RCMP and the work they do, which was appropriate.

But to pretend RCMP investigators are able to set their emotions completely aside while investigating such a crash is to suggest that police officers are not human beings.

An argument could well be made that the IIO should investigate all deaths of police officers, given the emotional impact of such deaths.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

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