The rift between the Vancouver Police and B.C.’s civilian police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office, seems to only be getting wider.
CKNW has obtained a confidential letter written by Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer to the IIO, slamming it for its conduct following a stabbing and fatal police shooting at an East Vancouver Canadian Tire last November.
In March, the IIO announced it was taking the Chief and seven officers to court, claiming they failed to communicate with the investigation.
The union representing VPD officers says they want the right to review video of the incident before being interviewed.
In the six-page document, Palmer slams the watchdog’s handling of the Canadian Tire incident, writing that while he supports the IIO’s mandate, he expects officers to be treated fairly and investigations to be conducted “in a competent and professional manner.”
“This investigation fails to meet expectations,” reads part of the letter.
“The Canadian Tire incident was a dynamic, complex and violent event that required police officers to make split-second decisions to protect the public and save lives,” Palmer writes.
“The subsequent IIO investigation did not meet investigative best practices and failed to demonstrate respectful conduct.”
In the letter, Palmer takes issue with the length of time it took the IIO to arrive at the scene, along with the alleged conduct of members once they did arrive, who he says “were unprepared and unable to make important decisions,” and “had to communicate remotely with their supervisor, who was not on site.”
“It’s difficult to understand why it took three hours for the arrival of the first two IIO investigators and six hours for additional investigators,” he writes.
Further, he says that despite police having the right to use force when necessary, officers were portrayed as potential criminals by IIO officers who characterized it as a “murder” investigation.
Palmer also says there was a clear lack of effective internal communication and coordination within the IIO’s investigative team, writing the VPD’s liaison officer and others received multiple phone calls and emails from the IIO that were “excessive and repetitive.”
He also criticizes the IIO’s alleged handling of evidence collection, which Palmer writes included mishandling of firearms, and unnecessarily demanding all responding officer’s uniforms, equipment, and computers.
Palmer goes on to slam the IIO’s refusal to grant officers access to evidence before their interviews, which he says has never been a problem in the past when dealing with the organization or the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.
“The VPD has two principal concerns: the first is what appears to be the IIO’s lack of investigative competence. The second concern is the rigid position the IIO has adopted regarding pre-interview disclosure which has led to unnecessary friction and distrust with the police.”
Palmer’s letter concludes by stating that “changes need to be made to the IIO’s current practices to improve the relationship with the police.”
He adds, “these concerns need to be addressed given the importance of independent police oversight to maintain public trust and accountability.”
The Canadian Tire incident unfolded Nov. 10 at a location near Rupert and Grandview Highway, when a man allegedly took a hostage in the store and then stabbed an officer before being shot fatally by the VPD.
Its aftermath is not the only case in which the VPD and IIO are at odds.
Several witness officers from the scene of Myles Gray’s police-involved death in 2015 are also refusing to be interviewed.
Their union says concerns are similar, officers want to review material from the day of the incident before being interviewed and say they’re concerned they’ll be in legal jeopardy if they remember events incorrectly.
IIO wishes litigation stays private
In response to Chief Palmer’s critical letter, the IIO’s Martin Youssef says the petition they filed in court in March alleged the officers involved in the incident weren’t cooperating with the investigation.
“Last year, where two people had been injured, including a police officer and a civilian who had been shot by police, it was a very tragic incident. And yet the police officers who witnessed this incident have repeatedly refused to attend for interviews since November 10th, with the support of their union.”
Youssef says it’s disappointing to see the letter surface in the public, adding he wishes the litigation stays private.
“The fact it made it into the public is obviously unfortunate. It doesn’t change the issues, the concerns are still there and we will be raising them with the Vancouver Police Department.”
Youssef says the terms are clear as laid out in the Police Act: that officers must co-operate in their investigation with no “if’s or but’s.”
With files from Simon Little and Matt Lee