Some unintended consequences
of cops investigating cops

Police have no one to blame but themselves
when their self-serving system backfires

March 5, 2010


If authorities such as SFU criminologist David MacAlister and Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin are correct, a strong police lobby perpetuates B.C.’s biased police complaint system. So cops have themselves to blame when their self-serving system backfires, as it did twice on March 5.

That day supporters of Yao Wei Wu announced a lawsuit against Delta police for allegedly siding with two Vancouver cops who beat up Wu. Also on that day, and very unusually, B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered a public inquiry into another police assault.

The lawsuit and the public hearing could have been avoided by impartial investigations. Instead these cases once again show the conflict of police investigating police, even when they’re members of different police forces.

Delta police investigated Vancouver police constables Nicholas Florkow and Bryan London for severely beating Wu when he answered an early morning knock at the door. According to documents filed by Wu’s lawyer, Cameron Ward, Delta police showed negligence by failing to interview the two Vancouver cops, failing to interview any material witnesses, failing to examine the crime scene thoroughly and failing to make a timely report to Crown counsel.

Ward also stated that the Wu family believes “charges should have been laid weeks ago and that the men who beat Mr. Wu up are receiving preferential treatment because they are police officers.”

Quite understandably, the Wu family lacks confidence in B.C.’s police complaint process. They’ve stated that they won’t waste their time with the OPCC.

Abbotsford cops conducted a Police Act investigation into West Vancouver constable Griffin Gillan’s attack on Firoz Khan. (Vancouver police had already concluded a criminal investigation of the assault, which took place in Vancouver while Gillan was off duty.) Abbotsford police recommended Gillan keep his job, albeit with a demotion. [Update: On August 26, 2011, West Vancouver police agreed to re-instate this violent criminal.]

Widespread media coverage prevented the OPCC from routinely rubber-stamping the police decision, prompting the OPCC’s blue-moon decision to order a public inquiry.

Police could have avoided this by firing Gillan. They had every reason to do so. If Gillan keeps his job, he’ll always be under a cloud, as will the entire West Van police force. Gillan’s unprovoked attack was a vicious cop fantasy that shows Gillan isn’t suited for police work. During the assault, the drunken Gillan shouted at his victim: “You’re under arrest!” Gillan phoned two cop friends for “backup.” One of the three cops was heard shouting cop instructions at Khan: “Cross your feet! Get your hands up!”

When Vancouver officers showed up, Gillan used his police status to try to justify the assault. As a result, Vancouver cops kept the bloodied, beaten victim handcuffed for 20 minutes. Had independent witnesses not been present and willing to speak out, Gillan likely would have escaped charges. Vancouver police might have charged Khan instead.

Nevertheless, Abbotsford police recommended Gillan keep his job and West Van police apparently concurred. A criminal court was more than lenient with Gillan, giving him a three-week curfew. That’s what kids used to get when their parents caught them smoking cigarettes. But now a public hearing might bring out details of the assault that didn’t surface during Gillan’s brief court hearing.

In addition there’s a very slight chance that the public hearing will strike at the heart of B.C.’s municipal police complaints process. Writing in the Georgia Straight, Charlie Smith says the hearing could — but probably won’t — determine whether allegations against police who are on duty (and therefore under police union protection) are investigated differently than allegations against police who are off duty.

If the hearing were to make those findings, Smith says, it could make recommendations to address the problem.

According to Marin, police unions, along with management, lobby against police accountability. Here in B.C., the lobby could account for the astonishing decision to appoint Stan Lowe police complaint commissioner, for the consistent OPCC policy of hiring ex-cops, for the fact that the OPCC answers to nobody and for the spectacle of two arch-rival political parties uniting to preserve B.C.’s heavily biased police complaint system.

The unions speak for the rank and file. So police have themselves to blame for any unintended consequences.

These two cases also confirm that police bonds cross municipal boundaries. Last month Quebec ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain criticized the policy of police investigating police, even when they serve on different forces. Police describe the policy as an enlightened response to public concern. But it turns out to be just another cop ploy to retain cop control when cops are under investigation.

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