B.C.’s municipal police officers are far more likely to be fired from internal, rather than public complaints, according to data in the Office of Police Complaint Commissioner’s (OPCC) last three annual reports.
No municipal officer in the province has been fired over the last three years for on-duty misconduct allegations made by the general public.
The vast majority of 16 formal dismissals since 2019 stem from department-requested investigations, complaints made by other officers, or internal discipline.
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Only two officers were fired due to a complaint from outside a police department. Both of those firings involved an off-duty a male officer assaulting women.
One of these cases involved a Vancouver Police Department officer who, after becoming intoxicated on vacation in 2017, allegedly assaulted his then-girlfriend five times over several hours while holding her against her will.
Police Complaint Commissioner Clayton Pecknold intervened after the initial VPD Investigation did not lend proper credibility to the woman’s testimony. VPD had concluded no assault took place and proposed a six-day suspension.
“A core issue that had to be addressed at this review was the credibility and reliability of the evidence provided by the complainant compared to that of the police officer as their respective versions of events were at odds,” said Pecknold wrote in the 2021/22 report.
The case was reviewed by a provincial judge who determined the officer should be fired. The judge noted the officer showed no remorse, denied responsibility and would likely commit further misconduct in the future.
The OPCC is the province’s police watchdog overseeing 12 municipal departments, as well as the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police Service, and the Organized Crime Agency of British Columbia. The OPCC does not have jurisdiction over the RCMP, corrections officers or border service agents.
Complaints are first investigated by a disciplinary authority, typically a separate police department, before being reviewed by the commissioner.
Out of 4,291 misconduct files concluded by the OPCC since 2019, 780 complaints were deemed admissible, 297 were substantiated and led to some form of discipline.
The most common cause for firing was discreditable conduct, which was cited as a reason for dismissal in 75 percent of cases.
B.C.’s Police Act defines discreditable conduct as behaviour which damages the reputation or internal discipline of the department.
These types of allegations only account for 12 percent of the total misconduct allegations.
Deceit was the second most common cause for firing, being cited in 31 percent of dismissals, accounting for fewer than two percent of allegations annually.
Internal investigations led to nearly all the misconduct cases since 2019 in which an officer was dismissed.
For instance, three officers were fired for making false financial claims with the department. One officer had 16 fraudulent massage therapy claims, another made 26 false overtime claims, and one misrepresented his payroll submissions over three years.
Three were caught working outside the force without proper authorization, two of whom were working with private security firms.
Four officers were fired for sexual abuse, harassment or inappropriate relations within the workplace.
Only two officers were summarily dismissed by their departments. All others had retired or resigned by the time the OPCC’s final decision was made, though their service record was marked with dismissal.
By far the most common allegation against police was abuse of authority, accounting for 45 percent of misconduct accusations made since 2019.
No officer has been fired in relation for this form of misconduct over the last three years, and just over 20 cases have substantiated allegations against one or more officers.
The most common discipline for abuse of authority are written reprimands, retraining, short suspensions, or a combination of all the three.
In half of the substantiated abuse of authority cases, the commissioner disagreed with the initial disciplinary authority’s findings which cleared the officers of wrongdoing.
The most severe discipline handed down for this form of misconduct in the last three years required the commissioner to intervene.
Highlighted by OPCC’s 2021/22 report, the 2016 case involved two VPD officers severely battering a complainant, leaving him with extensive injuries requiring hospitalization and ongoing treatment.
A neighbour had reported to police that a husband had slapped his wife, and the officers’ forced entry in the home two hours later was characterized as a wellness check.
The complainant alleged he was struck repeatedly with a baton, fists, elbows and kicks, and that an officer punched his son several times.
After the incident, the family was arrested and held overnight. They were all later charged with assaulting a police officer, but the charges were eventually stayed.
The Victoria Police Department conducted the initial investigation, but the review determined the officers did not commit misconduct.
A provincial judge’s review determined the warrantless entry into the home, use of force and arrests were all unlawful.
One officer was suspended for eight days and another received a reduction in rank. Both were required to go through retraining.