Police officers in Greater Victoria were reprimanded and demoted over the past year for misconducts that included the use of a Taser as a party trick, a poor investigation of intimate partner violence, using a dating app while conducting surveillance and losing a police badge.
The annual report this week by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, a civilian-led agency independent of police and government, said there were 735 complaints against the province’s 14 municipal police forces. More than half of the complaints were lodged against the Vancouver Police Department, while 101 involved the Victoria Police Department, 48 complaints were made in Saanich, nine in Oak Bay and seven in Central Saanich.
While the overall number of complaints was up 26% from 2020-21, the number of investigations into misconduct ordered by the commissioner remained about the same at 264 in the 2021-22 report.
The commissioner can initiate investigations into a police officer’s conduct or actions, even if there is no complaint filed by the public, and it can override conduct decisions already made by internal police investigations.
Police complaint commissioner Clayton Pecknold said the independent commissioner’s office is essential to hold police accountable.
“Policing institutions are strong and consistent advocates for their interests, having considerable access to the halls of power within the levels of government,” Pecknold said in his report, which was tabled in the legislature. “This access is often hidden from the view of the public and far outstrips the access available to the average British Columbian; most significantly to those who are vulnerable or marginalised.”
The Office of the Police Compaints Commissioner is one of three oversight bodies watching law enforcement in the province. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission examines the conduct of the RCMP while the Independent Investigations Office conducts investigations into police-related incidents of death or serious harm.
Police departments can also ask the commissioner to initiate an investigation into the conduct of one of their own.
In the latest report, the commissioner initiated 56 investigations into officer conduct. A total of 37 of these investigations were requested by the police department where the officers were working.
The Oak Bay Police Department asked the commissioner to open an investigation in relation to an officer’s conduct that involved allegations of abusive and intimidating behaviour toward a former common-law partner and family members, as well as allegations of alcohol abuse both on and off-duty, erratic behaviour, an incident of physical violence and the inappropriate use of a conducted energy weapon, or Taser, on two separate occasions on house guests, with their consent, but for a purpose unrelated to the performance of duties.
The Police Act investigation was suspended pending the outcome of a criminal investigation regarding the incident of physical violence. No criminal charge was filed against the member and the suspension of the investigation continued.
The investigation found the allegations were substantiated and considered serious misconduct. The officer was demoted from sergeant to first-class constable, barred from promotion for a year and now requires approval from Oak Bay’s police chief for any consideration in future promotions.
The disciplinary authority found that the five allegations were substantiated and characterized the misconduct as serious. In arriving at a decision, the authority said: “Deploying a CEW as a party trick on two separate occasions, repeatedly napping on duty without informing their shift mates, disabling the GPS on a police vehicle to conceal their whereabouts at home, remaining at home for inappropriately long periods of time, and displaying an inattentive attitude while on duty … establish a pattern of behaviour inconsistent with the expectations that the public and fellow officers place on a higher ranking member.”
Saanich police officers were cited with reprimands and a suspension after four investigations involving substantiated allegations against them.
In December 2019, an internal investigation was launched into the conduct of a Saanich officer for discreditable conduct during a work-sanctioned Christmas party when the officer inappropriately touched a female colleague. The officer was suspended for 10 days without pay and ordered to take training on sexual and workplace assault and harassment.
In November 2020, another Saanich officer was given a written reprimand for using a dating app while on drug surveillance duty.
A civilian reported that she had met the officer on the app and that the officer engaged in a phone conversation and met the civilian while conducting surveillance.
In arriving at a decision on discipline, it was noted that the officer’s lack of knowledge of the civilian and involvement in a drug investigation nearby could have resulted in the file being compromised. The authority found that the officer had a momentary lack of judgement and realized the meeting was not appropriate. The commissioner reviewed the reprimand and determined that the discipline imposed was appropriate in the circumstances.
Two other Saanich officers were given written reprimands — one for negative behaviour towards others, including speaking ill behind people’s backs, ignoring colleagues, unduly criticizing others for errors and making sarcastic comments; the other for losing his police badge and not reporting it stolen until three months later.
An officer with the Victoria Police Department was found to be in neglect of duty and used abusive conduct and language during an August 2019 incident in what the commissioner described as an inadequate investigation into a report of intimate partner violence by the complainant’s former partner. The complainant also reported that the officer treated her in a degrading, demeaning and discourteous manner.
The commissioner reviewed the complaint and determined that further investigation was required. Retired provincial court judge Brian Neal was appointed to review the matter and determined the member committed three instances of misconduct.
Neal said the officer failed to complete a “thorough evidence-based, risk focused investigation.”
Neal also determined the officer “may have demonstrated discourteous behaviour towards the complainant” and that it appeared the officer “treated the complainant in an oppressive manner by using profane or insulting language that tended to demean or disrespect the complainant based on her sex.”
The officer was given a written reprimand, a pair of two-day suspensions without pay and complete required training though the Justice Institute of B.C.
The commissioner also received three complaints about a VicPD officer using profanity and acting in an aggressive manner when stopping members of the public for carrying open alcohol during an August 2019 incident.
An initial police investigation found that the officer did not commit misconduct, but the commissioner appointed retired provincial court judge James Threlfall to review the matter.
Threlfall determined that the officer’s aggression and repeated use of profanity constituted misconduct, saying the officer’s use of profanity escalated a routine stop into a significant issue.
The officer was found to have used discourteous conduct and was given a verbal reprimand and required to complete a police ethics and accountability course.