A Saanich police officer resigned amid allegations that he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a sex worker, tried to extort money from her and conducted an inadequate investigation into the sexual assault, domestic abuse and robbery of the same woman, according to a report from the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
The misconduct case was outlined in the police complaint commissioner’s annual report, released Tuesday. All misconduct investigations into municipal police officers are overseen by the commissioner. The report also cited misconduct by an Oak Bay police officer.
According to the report, the Saanich officer was also found to have:
• Misappropriated money seized from a confidential informant and threatened to out the informant to their criminal associates.
• Failed to conduct an adequate investigation into a report of a domestic assault, sexual assault and robbery of the sex worker.
• Exchanged sexual text messages and images with the woman, even though she was vulnerable as a victim of crime.
Linda Amy, executive director of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, said the case could shake public confidence in police.
“Police officers are in such a position of power, so when that is betrayed, that shakes the foundation of trust that [sexual abuse] survivors should have in going to report to police. That completely undermines that process,” Amy said. “That person was in a very vulnerable situation and that was completely taken advantage of.”
Saanich police initiated a Police Act investigation in 2015 after learning that one of its officers was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a sex worker. During the investigation, the department uncovered several more allegations of misconduct. It emerged that the officer tried to extort money from the woman using coercion and threats of criminal sanctions.
The police complaint commissioner’s report said the officer filed a false or misleading investigative report and made false or misleading radio broadcasts related to an investigation. It’s unclear if those false reports were related to the sexual assault investigation.
On March 20, 2015, the police officer searched the PRIME Records Management System for information about individuals not related to the proper performance of his duties. He accessed a privatized file on PRIME and then communicated with the sex worker in an effort to determine what she had disclosed to police.
The officer was removed from operational duties.
During the criminal investigation into the extortion allegations, the Police Act investigation was suspended. However, Crown counsel did not approve charges and the Police Act investigation resumed.
The officer also lied in his written statements to Crown counsel and to the officer investigating the misconduct allegations.
The Police Act investigation substantiated the allegations and found the officer guilty of discreditable conduct, corrupt practice, deceit, neglect of duty and unauthorized use of police facilities or resources.
While the Police Act investigation was being conducted, the officer chose not to participate in discipline proceedings and resigned.
The discipline authority found the officer’s conduct “inexcusable and put the public at risk, the public confidence in the Saanich police at risk, the reputation of the Saanich police at risk and, in their totality, were grounds for dismissal,” according to the report.
Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie said in a statement: “When the initial allegations came forward, we took immediate action by removing the officer from operational duties and the former officer was subsequently suspended. We also immediately notified the OPCC and requested their oversight. As the allegations were significant, and potentially criminal in nature, we co-ordinated investigative efforts with the B.C. Prosecution Service.
“Saanich police is proud of its culture of service, has deeply entrenched values, and clear expectations of conduct. There are policies to guide our conduct, and the conduct of this former officer completely disregarded our expectations and were blatant violations of our policies.
“The women and men of the Saanich Police Department are committed to our values and the community. We remain dedicated to earning and maintaining public trust through transparency, accountability, professionalism, and by being responsive to our community’s needs.”
An Oak Bay police officer was also investigated for using the services of a sex worker.
Oak Bay Police Chief Andy Brinton said the department learned of allegations on Dec. 7, 2016. “There is no indication the police officer was engaged in said behaviour while on duty,” Brinton said.
An external investigator carried out a probe and a criminal investigation was also conducted. There was not enough evidence to support criminal charges, Brinton said.
The officer retired before the investigation concluded, but the investigation and discipline proceedings continued.
The discipline authority substantiated allegations of discreditable conduct and if the officer hadn’t retired, he would have been dismissed, Brinton said.
“The sanction supports the seriousness of this breach of the Police Act. This individual will never be a police officer again.”
Another Saanich police officer was investigated for leaving sensitive items, including a Glock handgun, in a covert police vehicle, which was broken into.
On Aug. 12, 2017, the officer left a backpack in the vehicle, parked outside a hotel. The next morning, the officer discovered the backpack had been stolen. The backpack contained a mini Glock magazine containing eight .40 calibre rounds, a can of pepper spray, a video camera with surveillance footage, a police-issued notebook, and a camouflage rain jacket and pants. Most of the items were recovered six days later, but Vortex Diamondback binoculars and some of the clothes remain missing.
The officer took responsibility, and the discipline authority determined there was no evidence of deceitful or malicious intent. The officer was given advice for future conduct.
Victoria police and Central Saanich police had no cases of substantiated misconduct in the fiscal year 2017-18.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner is a civilian, independent office that oversees complaints and investigations involving municipal police in B.C. Investigations are conducted by police departments, typically by the department where the officer under investigation works, but sometimes by an outside police force. The commissioner’s office ensures that investigations by police agencies under the Police Act are thorough, professional, impartial and fair to all parties. When an investigation is complete, a final report is sent to the police department’s discipline authority, typically the chief or a senior officer. The discipline authority decides whether misconduct has occurred and the appropriate discipline. That decision is reviewed by the commissioner’s office.
Officers who are investigated can request a review on the record or a public hearing if they disagree with the decision.
If the police complaint commissioner disagrees with the outcome of an investigation, he can appoint a retired judge to review the final investigation report or order a review on the record or a public hearing.