“Through a freedom of information request, the Star obtained 300 letters Scott sent to police forces over a 14-month period beginning in January 2009. When asked Tuesday if his letters get a response, Scott said in an interview: “Overall, the answer is no. Typically I don’t get responses…”
“Previous stories (in the Toronto Star) revealed that police officers are treated more favourably than civilians when accused of shooting, beating, running over and killing people, some of them innocent bystanders.”
Obviously the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) doesn’t have the necessary powers to do the job, to the extent that they can safely be ignored. This is totally unacceptable, and defeats the purpose of having an SIU.
As this excellent and well thought-out Toronto Star Exclusive shows, police officers under investigation should be forbidden to all use the same lawyer, and the SIU should have the power to file charges under the Police Services Act rather than having to rely upon the considerably less-motivated leadership of the police forces involved.
We pay taxes to be protected from criminals and thugs, not to be assaulted and abused by the police themselves. Such incidents are far from common, but they do happen. And when they do, the SIU must be able to do its part in weeding out the bad apples. And as I have said before, weeding out the corrupt, the bullies and the sadists must be an ongoing concern for any police force.
With a provincial election scheduled in just a few months, now is the time to make your views known; see the link at the foot of this post.
Don’t forget Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Party Leaders Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath as well as your local MPP.
Police ignore SIU’s probes
Toronto Star Exclusive
Michelle Henry & David Bruser: February 22nd, 2011
Police forces across Ontario are thumbing their noses at the provincial agency that investigates cops, refusing to cooperate with or even respond to the Special Investigations Unit, documents obtained by the Toronto Star show.
A trail of letters written by SIU director Ian Scott to the province’s chiefs of police show his mounting frustration at not being able to hold officers accountable.
The province released the letters, but whited out the names of the police forces involved.
In one case, after a police officer ran a stop sign and caused a collision that injured a truck driver and killed a fellow officer, the SIU found the police force’s actions “rife with conduct issues.”
In a terse letter sent Sept. 22, 2009, Scott noted six possible violations of the Police Services Act. Among them: Officers waited four hours before notifying the SIU of the incident; officers required to promptly turn over their notes to the SIU did not do so; the uniform of the dead officer was thrown away before SIU investigators could analyze it; and several officers from the force used the same lawyer, possibly tainting the independence of their accounts.
Scott finished the letter with a jab at the silence that sometimes meets his requests for a response:
“While you have made it clear that you do not intend to respond to my concerns of possible breaches of the Police Services Act and its related regulations, I intend to continue to document them.”
SIU directors (Scott has held the job since 2008) send letters like this when they close a case without laying a criminal charge, but want to raise serious issues they want the police force to fix.
In one letter, Scott highlighted an alarming trend among members of one police force: three instances of alleged inappropriate sexual touching during an arrest. Details of the touching are censored from the letter, but Scott suggests a possible training problem that needs fixing: “Your service may wish to consider addressing this issue in a more proactive way.”
Through a freedom of information request, the Star obtained 300 letters Scott sent to police forces over a 14-month period beginning in January 2009.
When asked Tuesday if his letters get a response, Scott said in an interview: “Overall, the answer is no. Typically I don’t get responses. There are some notable exceptions to that. There are some police services that are very good at responding — Hamilton, York and some of the smaller police forces like South Simcoe are very good at responding.”
The request for the letters was made as part of an ongoing Toronto Star investigation.
The SIU’s job is to investigate serious injuries and deaths resulting from interactions between police and civilians, and decide whether to criminally charge an officer.
Scott said he wants increased SIU powers — the ability to initiate disciplinary proceedings for serious but non-criminal misconduct. In the meantime, all he can do is try to make police forces aware of possible misconduct.
“My objective in the long run is to put the police service on notice that this appears to be a problem … and hopefully to ensure the problem does not recur,” Scott told the Star.
In nearly one-third of the letters the SIU director wrote in 2009, he pointed out possible misconduct, poor training or other serious issues discovered during investigations.
One such concern is delayed notification, when police officers wait hours, days or months to notify the SIU after learning of a serious injury, death or alleged sexual assault. In a June 2009 letter, Scott chastised a police force for investigating an alleged sexual assault by one of its own officers and for waiting a year and a half to notify the SIU.
In a letter dated May 5, 2010, Scott questions why a police force waited to notify the SIU until an official medical report confirmed the severity of the injury to a civilian’s head. The SIU director suggests to the police chief that it should have been immediately obvious, because “when the paramedics arrived, (the man)’s head was sitting in a pool of blood and (he) initially appeared unconscious. He was placed on a spine board and transported from the scene to the local hospital.”
Many of the letters have been heavily redacted by government censors. Critical details, such as the date and time of the incident and identity of the police force and involved officers, have been whited out. Sometimes even the type of weapon used or details of the civilian injury were inexplicably deleted.
Scott has been a controversial director, drawing criticism from police forces for his perceived bias against officers and for his questioning of police conduct.
The letters obtained by the Star show Scott continues to have concerns about officers under SIU investigation using the same lawyer, who is duty-bound to share information between clients. Scott also takes issue with lawyers advising police clients on note preparation. Scott is concerned that such officer-lawyer relations taint the evidence, and he repeatedly refers to this issue in his letters.
Excessive-force concerns emerged in nine letters, including one that described an officer tackling two suspects “rugby style” because he believed they would run away, though they were not running. The officer punched one suspect after his left femur was broken by the fall.
“The amount of force used in this case was very close to the line,” Scott wrote in a letter announcing to the police chief that a criminal charge would not be laid.
In another incident, officers struggled with a resisting suspect, taking him to the ground and striking his leg seven times with a baton, breaking the lower right leg. The incident was captured on video.
Scott wrote: “While there were not sufficient grounds to lay a criminal charge, the use of force … raises a number of disciplinary/training issues. Further, the voluntary statements given by the two subject officers do not accord with the imagery on the DVD of this incident. You may wish to address these issues in your (internal) investigation.”
In a third excessive force case, Scott flagged possible “training issues” after a 300-pound officer with a 230-pound partner punched a 135-pound man in his late 50s in the ribs somewhere between one and five times.
In eight of his letters to police forces, Scott expressed concern about the damage caused by officers’ bad driving.
In one case, an officer not responding to a call and with no emergency lights on was driving 74 km/h in a 50-km/h zone and struck a cyclist that ran a stop sign.
The civilian was propelled into the air, and the impact broke his skull and bones in his back, chest and neck. The cyclist was also scalped. Scott wrote that while the officer’s speed did not justify a dangerous driving criminal charge, “the subject officer was exceeding the speed limit at the point of impact by 24 km/h and according to the accident reconstructionist could have avoided the accident but for his rate of speed … I leave issues of charges under the Highway Traffic Act to your police service.”
In another case, Scott notes that the officers broke rules when they tried to execute a “rolling” roadblock manoeuvre — where moving squad cars try to hem in and slow down a pursued vehicle — at too high a speed. The victim suffered “traumatic injuries,” the details of which were whited out by government censors.
The Star also obtained more than 200 letters written by Scott’s predecessor, former SIU director James Cornish, in 2006. Cornish often praised police services, describing one struggle to control an armed man as “Herculean.” In another letter, Cornish lauded the reaction time of cops rushing to a scene, saying they got there while the “gun smoke still hung in the air.”
Though in a few cases Cornish notes possible misconduct issues, he rarely asked a police force to get back to him about what, if any, internal discipline or changes resulted.
In 37 of Scott’s letters, the current director asked police forces to respond to his concerns. It is not clear if any did.
Cornish declined to comment.
In 20 of his letters, Scott said that officers may have broken conduct rules by either deliberately or unwittingly interfering with SIU investigations.
In one case, Scott said an officer appeared to “induce” another officer to commit this type of misconduct, and Scott asked the force to launch an internal investigation.
In several other cases, Scott told the police force that witness officers, who are required to talk to the SIU, refused to answer questions; in a few cases, Scott said he would be “happy” to supply police with tape-recorded evidence of the refusals, and in one case he bluntly asked a force to charge two officers with neglect of duty. In another, involving the broken jaw of a civilian, the dispirited director said that he had already tried to address the issue with the police force but never got a reply.
He wrote: “I am going to assume you are not going to provide me with a written response to these issues affecting the integrity of the SIU investigations.”