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Monday, December 10, 2007

Victoria police officer Darren Laur's "apparent or perceived" conflict of interest

In August 2005, I lodged a complaint with the British Columbia Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) to iterate my concern that, while engaged in permanent full-time employment as a peace officer with the Victoria Police Department, Sgt. Darren Laur was also employed by, and accepted financial benefits from, Taser International and that his acceptance of financial benefits from that company placed him in a conflict of interest. It was my belief that this conflict of interest compromised Sgt. Laur's participation in the "Taser Technology Review" and an external investigation into the circumstances of my brother's death, both commissioned by the OPCC.

On September 24, 2005, Robert Anglen - a reporter for The Arizona Republic - published an article entitled "Taser defends giving stock options to police." Mr. Anglen wrote: "Another officer who received Taser stock options is Darren Laur of the Victoria, British Columbia, Police Department. Laur has been a staunch advocate for Taser for years and helped write a report in 1999 that helped usher Tasers into Canada. According to court documents, Laur was given 750 stock options in 2001 for helping to design a holster for the Taser. Taser said he sold the options in 2003. In his deposition, Taser President Tom Smith said he did not believe any of the options granted to police officers represented a conflict."

On October 5, 2005, Victoria Chief Constable Paul Battershill clearly identified this issue as a public trust issue in a presentation to the Canadian Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement National Conference. During his presentation, Chief Battershill noted that "Conflict of interest is now arising with police use of force people who privately contract. Ethics combined with declaration of conflicts. (Kerek [sic], Laur, etc.) This is going to get problematic unless very clear conflict guidelines are followed."

On October 6, 2005, Chief Constable Battershill wrote to advise me that my complaint did not disclose a recognized Public Trust; Service and Policy; or Internal Discipline default. To which I and lawyer Cameron Ward responded that Sgt. Laur committed a Public Trust default, and possibly a Service and Policy default, by placing himself in such a conflict of interest, and that Chief Battershill was obligated to characterize this complaint. We requested that the investigation proceed without further delay. Another letter from the Victoria Police Department confirmed that their position remained unchanged and my complaint was referred back to the OPCC for consideration and decision.

On January 9, 2006, the OPCC formally characterized my complaint as a "compound complaint" with both Public Trust and Service and Policy components and advised all parties, including Darren Laur, Chief Constable Paul Battershill and Mayor Alan Lowe (Chair of the Victoria Police Board). An investigation began.

Because Chief Constable Battershill was considered a "witness" in the investigation, Chief Constable Paul Shrive of the Port Moody Policy Department was named Discipline Authority for the complaint, with a mandate to review the final report and determine a course of action to follow.

On June 12, 2007, almost two years after the complaint was lodged, I received a letter from Alan Lowe, Chair of the Victoria Police Board, who said that the Board reviewed my complaint pertaining to the Service and Policy component and determined that the current policy did not adequately address current conflict of interest issues, nor did it meet public expectations of conflict of interest guidelines and disclosure processes. As a result, "significant recommendations to the Victoria Police Department Conflict of Interest policy were made that reflect the serious manner with which we consider the issue."

On July 3, 2007, I received a letter from Chief Constable Paul Shrive who found that no Public Trust complaint against Sgt. Laur was substantiated. He did, however, say that there was an apparent or perceived, but not an "actual" (what the hell's the difference?) conflict of interest given Sgt. Laur's past association with Taser International and he agreed that, in the circumstances, Sgt. Laur ought not to have been selected to participate in the Taser Technology Review.

He further expressed his view that, while it was beyond the ambit of his delegation, this matter was of great significance and should be addressed promptly. And while the inspector in charge of the investigation recommended that the Victoria Police Department or Chief Constable Battershill acknowledge to me and the public that Sgt. Laur was in a position of apparent or perceived conflict of interest and ought not to have been selected to participate in the Taser Technology Review, he found that this also fell outside the ambit of his delegation and said he must leave that matter to the discretion of the Victoria Police Department and Chief Constable Battershill. (To the best of my knowledge, neither Chief Constable Battershill nor his department has ever acknowledged this publicly. You read it here first.)

On July 6, 2007, Chief Constable Battershill sent copies of the Executive Summaries of the complaint investigation to me. In his covering letter, he agreed with the determination that Sgt. Laur was in a position of apparent or perceived, but not an "actual" (again, I fail to see the difference) conflict of interest and that in retrospect Sgt. Laur ought not to have participated in the Taser Technology Review. However, he felt it was "evident" that the perceived or apparent conflict of interest posed by Sgt Laur's previous dealings or associations with Taser International did not compromise the Taser Technology Review or the investigation into my brother's death. He noted current standards of public expectation with conflict of interest issues associated to public bodies, and where it is a reasonable expectation to not have had Sgt. Laur's participation.

Finally, he said that the implementation of policy change based on the recommendations from the Victoria Police Board would bring forward a consistency with public expectations on the issue of conflict of interest which police in general have not adequately addressed.

In a final letter from the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner wrote that one of the recommendations from the investigation was that the OPCC recommend that consideration be given to amending the BC Police Act to include a section dealing with conflicts of interest. He noted that the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Public Safety is currently undertaking a review of the Police Act and that separate correspondence would be forwarded to them with respect to this issue.

He noted that it was his view that the issues involving police officers and conflict of interest have not been previously or adequately dealt with and the types of policy changes seen as a result of this investigation are worthy of other police departments to take note of. He concluded by saying that this topic was placed on the agenda of the Canadian Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement National Conference.

As I noted earlier, Taser President Tom Smith did not believe any of the options granted to police officers represented a conflict. It would seem that not everyone agrees.

1 comment:

Erik said...

He did, however, say that there was an apparent or perceived, but not an "actual" (what the hell's the difference?) conflict of interest

Did you ever ask them what that means, "not actual"? As far as I can see it is a term used to deceive the reader by distorting the notion of what the actual meaning of COI is.

Wikipedia has a fair description of Conflict of Interest:

A conflict of interest is a situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a lawyer, insurance adjuster, a politician, executive or director of a corporation or a medical research scientist or physician, has competing professional or personal interests. Such competing interests can make it difficult to fulfil his or her duties impartially. A conflict of interest exists even if no unethical or improper act results from it. A conflict of interest can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the person, profession, or court system.

In the light of the definition above the reported "not actual conflict of interest" is flat-out a lie.

I'm not surprised to see lies like these from the highest ranks of public offices in Victoria or elsewhere in Canada; I'd file it under "effects of neo-liberalism" at my own blog. It's appalling nevertheless.