Friday, July 20, 2007

Public suspicious of police investigating police.

Of course usually a special "independent" unit is used to investigate police however it would be better if there were some entity independent of the police entirely. No doubt the entity might have trouble getting co-operation from the police in many instances but I understand special units also have that problem because of the blue veil.
The Houston case seems to involve gross violation of norms. I wonder if anything will happen.

The public remains suspicious when police investigate police

Vancouver Sun

Friday, July 20, 2007

Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd did the right thing this week by reversing a departmental policy against officers testifying for the defence.

The policy was based on the notion that police and the Crown were part of the same team, so it would be a conflict of interest for a police officer to provide testimony that might undermine the Crown's case.

The policy was being used to call on to the carpet Const. Joe Slemko, the Edmonton police officer and blood-spatter expert who was asked by the family of Ian Bush to testify at the recently completed coroner's inquest into his death in Houston, B.C.

While we have no doubt that Boyd was sincere in his disavowal of the policy, which he said was a vestige of a previous administration, the fact that it was in place until the chief was called in front of the Edmonton Police Commission this week is another illustration of the fundamental problem with police being allowed to investigate their own -- the persistent notion that in a paramilitary organization loyalty trumps truth.

Slemko testified before the inquest that the blood-spatter evidence from where Bush was fatally shot in the back of the head by a rookie RCMP constable when they were alone in the detachment was not consistent with the story the officer told.

In the end, hobbled by the direction from the coroner that the conduct of the police in the case was beyond their mandate, the inquest jury was unable to answer the questions that begged for reply.

Bush's family is left with the unpalatable official response that the 22-year-old mill worker, who had been arrested for having an open beer outside a hockey arena, was essentially responsible for his own death after attacking Const. Paul Koester in the interview room of the station.

While we doubt any finding would satisfy the Bush family that justice has been served in this case, even for more detached observers there are still many troubling aspects.

One tangential tragedy is that the shoddy nature of the RCMP's internal investigation means that the young RCMP constable who pulled the trigger might never escape the cloud of suspicion that it was not such a clear case of self-defence as he has made it appear.

What is clear is that any credibility he had as a witness in his own defence was undermined by the way his colleagues and superiors treated him after the shooting.

Naturally we are not suggesting that police officers involved in fatal shootings should be treated like murderous thugs. Far from it. They always deserve our thanks, especially when their life is on the line. But certain standards of investigation still have to apply, even when the action of police is best described as heroic, even when, as Koester maintains, it is a clear case of self-defence.

In this case, Koester did not give a detailed statement until three weeks after the shooting. Three months passed before he was questioned by investigators.

Bush's body was left unrefrigerated at the Houston detachment for two days before being turned over to the pathologist.

But even without these obvious flaws, no investigation carried out by colleagues can be perceived as truly credible.

Now that the RCMP has a new civilian commissioner, William Elliott, one of his first tasks should be to work with the federal and provincial governments to establish an outside investigation unit to look into incidents like this that will inevitably occur.

Both Koester and Bush deserve better than the current practice of police investigating police.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

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