Friday, February 08, 2008

Coastguard?

I just can't get the image out of my mind...Homer Simpson has formed a vigilante group whose thuggery rivals that of the very criminal element they intend to combat. When asked by the insightful Lisa if his group is now the police, then "who will police the police"? the slovenly and slothful father-figure manages enough initiative to shrug his shoulders and unintelligently answer the rhetorical question with "I dunno, Coastguard?"

Cut the scene to the Alberta Solicitor General's brand new initiative to bring back public confidence in the realm of police discipline and accountability through a whole new level of "civilian" oversight...the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

The ASIRT was hatched as part of an effort to quell concerns that police internal investigations of other police could simply not be trusted to be open, transparent...and let's face it, legitimate. The public has become increasingly suspicious of there being two different sets of rules...one for police and one for everyone else...when it comes to allegations of criminal or professional wrongdoing. And with reports like the one coming out of Toronto this month where scores of very serious criminal charges against 6 police officers have all been thrown out for unexplained, unreasonable delay by the prosecutors, it is not difficult to understand public sentiments:

http://www.nationalpost.com/scripts/story.html?id=278431

The judge acknowledged that in staying the charges, "not without considerable reluctance I will add," he was ending the case on an "unsatisfactory" note, particularly for the public and the unanswered questions about corruption on the Toronto force.


But he added: "In this case the public might fairly question why it has taken until 2008 to even approach the start of a trial on alleged misconduct by police officers that occurred, for the most part, in 1997 and 1998," he said.


So, on the face of it, the ASIRT and the theory behind it should make Albertan's feel great about the fact that a special "civilian" team will be in place here to ensure that accused police officers are investigated and prosecuted the same as anyone...without any potential benefit of biased investigations or slack prosecutions. I mean, just look at what the Sol. Gen. has said about the program:

http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200703/21178518D70E2-0E6B-39B9-D67906191E3EF696.html

Proposed amendments to the Police Act will allow the establishment of a provincial body to investigate police when someone has been seriously injured or dies as a result of the direct actions of a police officer. This team would also investigate highly sensitive or serious matters involving police.

"The creation of this body is in line with government's goal of providing safe and secure communities for Albertans," said Fred Lindsay, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security. "It will help maintain transparency, accountability and public trust in how investigations against police are handled."

Excellent. No need to worry about conspiracy theories here...police will be policed by "civilians", regular members of the public...public accountability making sure that justice system insiders are not the ones who could potentilly improperly influence the course of an investigation or subsequent prosecution to protect "one of their own."

Right.

The "civilian" director of ASIRT was appointed in October of 2007...and he's a Crown Prosecutor with Alberta Justice. The structure of the new ASIRT teams has been described by the government as follows:

ASIRT will be made up of two investigative units. One will be based in Edmonton to cover northern Alberta while the other will be in Calgary to investigate incidents in southern Alberta. Each team will have six investigators, a staff sergeant and administrative support staff. Investigators will be current police officers or civilians with investigative experience (including former police officers, Canadian military investigators, or Canada Customs investigators).

http://alberta.ca/ACN/200710/2222261CB6A00-C079-79AA-84C22E897FD9D21C.html

Now, for all of you holding out hope that the independent "civilian" oversight part of this initiative is going to be saved because a massive complement of Canada Customs luggage searchers are going to get the investigator's jobs...think again. The Sol. Gen. has posted the competition for the job of "Civilian Investigator":

http://www.pao.gov.ab.ca/jobs/postings/046282.htm

Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is a new provincial unit set up to investigate serious and sensitive matters involving police officers. If you have experience as an Investigator in the field of law enforcement, the new positions of Civilian Investigators of ASIRT may be of interest to you. We are looking for leaders with strong senior level experience who want to continue their commitment to enhancing law enforcement and serving the community. You will be part of a team of investigators in the Edmonton or the Calgary office who investigate incidents under Section 46.1 of the Police Act. This includes incidents involving serious injury or death of any person that may have resulted from the actions of a police officer or complaints that are made alleging that serious injury to or the death of any person may have resulted from the actions of a police officer, or any matter of a serious nature related to the actions of a police officer.


Qualifications: Degree or diploma plus extensive senior level experience in the law enforcement field. Experience must include operational expertise in investigating major crimes with preferred experience in homicide. Equivalencies will be considered. Some travel within Alberta will be required.

Okay, so lets say a couple of cops in Calgary get charged with beating a homeless man to a pulp in the stairwell of a police station:

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2007/12/19/officers-charged.html

Instead of just having regular police investigations which are then referred to the Crown Prosecutor for review and conduct, we are now going to benefit from the "civilian" oversight of an ASIRT investigation.

So, current and former police officers (lets face it, the job qualifications specified mean that ex-major crimes detectives are going to be the "civilian investigators") under the direction of a Crown Prosecutor investigating this type of allegation as part of an ASIRT team is different than the previous scenario how???????

Bottom line...this is a waste of money and a sadly transparent (well transparancy is what they were going for) attempt to trick the Alberta public into thinking that they are somehow protected from potential corruption by some extra-special layer of civilian oversight of police in the province.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the prosecutor appointed as director or any investigators who will be hired are corrupt. In fact, I'm not even suggesting the old pre-ASIRT process is corrupt. Actually, the link to the story of the CPS officers being charged demonstrates an example where the pre-ASIRT process apparently worked just fine.

The point I'm making is this...why are policing agencies so afraid to have actual objective civilians (i.e. never have been police officers) overseeing their activity? Maybe I'm missing something, but the whole idea of civilian oversight of police is to ensure that someone is looking at things through glasses colored anything but blue...it's the only way to identify systemic problems or to actually uncover corruption...have someone who has absolutely no connection to policing be the set of critical eyes.

If the RCMP can have a non-member commissioner, perhaps Alberta can do away with the appearance of objective oversight, and actually implement it.

And as an aside...

If the implementation of ASIRT is needed to "help maintain transparency, accountability and public trust in how investigations against police are handled" then what does that say of the jobs being done by provincial Police Commissions and the Law Enforcement Review Board?

Anyone have a CB radio and the call-sign of a local Coast Guard cutter?

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When the Alberta Bar Association allows "actual objective civilians" (eg: no lawyers) to investigate complaints against members of the bar, perhaps the rest of the province will follow their lead.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who would you suggest do the job? Where and who has the ability and experience to get the investigation done and to the court? And your right do we really need more investigations of police by police? What do they have now..... 3 or 4 bodies that take them to task? As the previous comment stated perhaps you should lead by example see how that goes

12:34 AM  
Blogger M Bates said...

I can't say that the Law Society of Alberta has a perfect process, but there are non-lawyer laypeople who sit as Benchers.

And really, criticism of some other discipline process is not a very compelling way to answer the criticism I have made of the police process.

It's a little like "I know you are, but what am I?"

As to who would do the job, many non-police jobs require analytical problem-solving skills that would easily adapt to the task with a little training. Accounting auditor, auto mechanic, research scientist, nurse, doctor, teacher, etc.

There's really no reason why only police and former police can validly review the conduct of other police officers.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Piranha Rex said...

Well, in the USA juries rule over life and death and they are civilians!

12:00 AM  
Blogger CuriousG said...

From my experience the ASIRT team appear to be nothing more than an extra layer of red tape.

How impartial can they be when most of the team is succonded from the RCMP,and the Calgary and Edmonton police forces, for a period of two years, then return to their previous posts.

Would you use your cerial bowl as a urinal today when you know you must eat out of it again tomorrow?

Did I make my point clear?

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoot Michael, if you continue keep a blog like this, you should be considering a different career, someone is going to be upset with you. You will not get promoted in your day job, you will not get any awards from your peers, and you will surely be blackballed in the corrupt Calgary Justice industry circle. But I'm digging you!

10:22 AM  
Blogger M Bates said...

Being a criminal defence lawyer has a major advantage of true independence. I must certainly comply with the ethical standards of the Law Society and with my duties as a sworn officer of the court, but beyond that my role in society is to diligently challenge the actions of the State in protection of individual citizens.

I don't need to be promoted and having the privilege to appear in all manner of courts and tribunals to litigate fundamental democratic rights and freedoms is a daily reward.

And contrary to your perception of a pervasively corrupt system, I find that taking a stand on important yet controversial issues more often leads to being afforded respect from others in the system as opposed to being blackballed.

Thank you for your interest in my blog.

11:55 AM  

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