On the first day of school last year, a Victoria police officer left an investigation, strapped both her children under one seatbelt in the front passenger seat of her police van, and activated lights and siren en route to their elementary school.
It was one of 1,326 files looked at by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner from April 2018 to March 2019 — a 15 per cent increase from the previous year, according to an annual overview released this week. Some of the cases, which involved 14 police agencies in B.C., resulted from public complaints, while others came from police departments.
Incidents of misconduct by municipal police officers in B.C. make up only a fraction of interactions between police and the public, said police complaint commissioner Clayton Pecknold.
But because police officers have “extraordinary powers” over citizens, it’s important that they be accountable to an impartial body that’s independent of governments and police, Pecknold said in a statement.
The incident involving the Victoria police officer taking her children to school netted her two findings of misconduct and resulted in a verbal reprimand; it was regarded as being on the low end of the spectrum of seriousness among substantiated complaints in 2018-2019.
Other substantiated cases of misconduct involving municipal police forces in Greater Victoria:
• In Victoria, on Aug. 20, 2018, a police officer left his loaded pistol in a desk drawer in the communications centre of the Victoria Police Department, where it was discovered the next day by a civilian call taker.
• On July 7, 2017, a Victoria police officer was found to have committed three acts of misconduct and given both a verbal and written reprimand and ordered to receive counselling after he “drove recklessly” and used his police vehicle to turn suddenly into the path of a cyclist, causing the cyclist to suffer scrapes and bruises in a fall.
• Included in the report are two investigations that resulted in the dismissal of Frank Elsner as Victoria police chief. He was found to have committed five acts of misconduct related to the spouse of a police officer under his command. A third investigation resulted in three findings of misconduct related to accusations by two officers against Elsner, citing unwanted physical contact, including one incident of inappropriate sexual remarks.
• Following a 2015 incident, a Saanich police officer was suspended for 20 days for misconduct for counselling an alleged sexual-assault victim not to report the incident to police, and another 30 days for providing false or misleading information to the investigating officer.
“Although the Prehearing Conference Authority considered the misconducts to be extremely serious, it was believed that the officer suffered from occupational health injuries that may have possibly affected his judgment,” says the report. The offence dates are not listed. “The police officer had a 26-year career with no record of discipline before this incident and retired during the Police Act process.”
• On Oct. 19, 2017, a special municipal constable reported being touched by a police officer in an inappropriate manner while attending an offsite meeting. The misconduct resulted in training for the police officer, including an online “respectful workplaces” course offered by Canadian Police Knowledge Network.
• On Oct. 13, 2016, a Saanich police officer committed two acts of misconduct that resulted in the acquittal of an accused impaired driver. The officer failed to watch the driver during an observation period and also failed to properly prepare for court — not reviewing a surveillance video of the observation room. A written reprimand and demand for retraining was issued.
• On May 16, 2018, a Central Saanich police officer failed to thoroughly search a person admitted to a secure psychiatric facility, resulting in the patient taking out a knife while in hospital.
There were no substantiated misconduct investigations in Oak Bay during the reporting period.
There are four municipal departments on Vancouver Island; the rest are RCMP detachments. The OPCC does not have jurisdiction over the RCMP — those complaints are reviewed by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commissioner.
The overall rate of complaints from the public about municipal police conduct has remained stable during the past five years, according to the report.
Complaints from the public about municipal police officers’ conduct totalled 487 from April 2018 to March 2019, down seven per cent from the last reporting period. The police complaint commissioner made 79 orders for investigation into police misconduct, up from 48 in the year prior.
Of the files, 403 were reports of injuries resulting from police actions — police-dog bites and “empty hand techniques.” The latter refers to force without weapons, everything from a hold to a punch.
“Constant vigilance is required to both preserve effective approaches to policing and to prevent their misuse,” Pecknold said.
Disciplinary action for police misconduct ranged from verbal reprimands to dismissal.