He wants to hear your complaints

Stan Lowe, B.C.’s police complaints commissioner,
begins his public awareness campaign
in Delta this week

Jessica Kerr, Delta Optimist, Sept. 26, 2009

Stan Lowe, B.C.’s police complaints commissioner, was the guest speaker
at Deltassist’s annual general meeting Wednesday night. Photo: Jessica Kerr

B.C.’s police complaint commissioner is launching a program to increase the public’s awareness of what his office does — and he started in Delta this week.

Stan Lowe, who was appointed to the position in February, delivered the keynote speech at Deltassist’s annual general meeting Wednesday night.

“I’m here to speak to you in a very general way,” Lowe told the group.

He went on to say that one of his goals is to increase public awareness of the office of the police complaint commissioner (OPCC).

“People don’t know enough about the OPCC,” he said. “A well informed public really makes for a sturdy society at the end of the day.”

The OPCC deals with three types of complaints: those involving an allegation of a breach of the public trust or misconduct by an officer, those against a department’s policies and procedures, or those involving a department’s internal discipline.

The B.C. OPCC only deals with complaints involving municipal police forces. The RCMP has its own system of investigating complaints against its officers.

Most of the complaints received by the OPCC involve allegations that an officer violated the public trust, Lowe said, adding 96 per cent of complaints lodged last year involved accusations of misconduct.

“Time and time again, misconduct is just a result of poor judgment,” he said, and in many cases can be addressed through additional officer training, and advice and guidance from a superior.

During his speech, Lowe also touched on the recently announced changes to the police complaint process in this province.

Last week, Solicitor General Kash Heed announced changes to the legislation aimed at making the complaint process easier for the public and strengthening the oversight powers of the OPCC.

The changes are based on a report tabled by former judge Joe Wood following his review of the process.

“While this legislation is new, the scrutiny it reflects and responds to is not,” Heed said.

“Police accountability is the theme of Judge Joe Wood’s review of B.C.’s complaint process, but it is also reflected in the recent Braidwood commission report. That’s why this legislation paves the way for broad, independent oversight by B.C.’s police complaint commissioner, which means he will oversee complaint handling from the time it is submitted — and provide advice and direction throughout to ensure the public interest is protected.”

So far, the changes have received preliminary approval in the legislature.

Under the current system, the OPCC does not look at a complaint until after the initial investigation is complete and the discipline authority, usually a police chief, has made a decision. With the proposed changes, the OPCC will oversee the investigation as it unfolds.

If the legislation is successfully changed, it will order municipal police officers under investigation to provide statements and submit to interviews by investigating officers within five days of a request; increase the maximum suspension without pay for misconduct to 30 days from five; and will compel the OPCC to arrange a public hearing or review of the record in certain circumstances — for example, if the commissioner believes a police chief has erred in findings or applying discipline.

As well, the proposed changes will make it easier for a member of the public to file a complaint. Currently, a complainant must fill out a form to officially launch a complaint against an officer or department.

Lowe said this can deter some people from making a complaint, and giving more filing options will make the process more accessible.

With the changes, Lowe said, police will have a duty to the OPCC.

“I think that’s a level of independence that is needed in the process,” he said.

Delta police spokesperson Const. Sharlene Brooks said this week the department, along with other stakeholders, was consulted and had input into the proposed changes.

“The Delta police supports civilian oversight and we support the changes,” she said. “We can work within the act.”

As part of his new public outreach campaign, Lowe asked the Deltassist volunteers and staff who attended Wednesday’s AGM for help. He asked if they come into contact with someone who may have a complaint against police to refer them to the OPCC.

“If you send them to my office you will have someone who will listen to them ... you have my word that we’ll try to take care of people,” he said.

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