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Thursday, August 14, 2008

High profile Victoria police chief quits, discipline hearing cancelled

August 14, 2008
The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — Victoria is looking for a new police chief after the city's mayor announced the immediate resignation of embattled former chief Paul Battershill under mysterious circumstances.

Battershill has been on paid administrative leave since last October and was facing a disciplinary hearing next Monday, but what prompted the leave has never been made public.

Mayor Alan Lowe said Wednesday that Battershill's resignation means the hearing has been cancelled. Lowe wouldn't give details about what's behind Battershill's departure.

"I would like to announce today that the (Victoria Police) board has accepted the resignation of Paul Battershill effective immediately as a result of a loss of confidence in his leadership of the Victoria Police Department," said Lowe during a press conference at Victoria Police headquarters.

"The disciplinary hearing set for Aug. 18 will no longer proceed due to the resignation of Battershill," he said. "The police board will not be paying a severance to Battershill. We will contribute a sum of $15,000 towards Battershill's legal fees as part of the settlement agreement. The Victoria Police Board considers this matter closed."

But Lowe suggested the Battershill matter could still face public scrutiny. The office of B.C.'s police complaints commissioner is entitled to review the findings of an RCMP investigation it ordered and has the power under the Police Act to call a public hearing, he said. "A public hearing could be held if (the commissioner's) office believes that the issues are such that they are in the public interest," Lowe said.

Police Complaints Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld was not immediately available for comment.

Lowe said an RCMP investigation of the allegations, which were never made public, against Battershill found nothing criminal against the former chief. "The investigation completed by the RCMP did not find that Battershill had committed any criminal acts, had any involvement with any criminal activity, nor did it find any financial impropriety," he said.

Lowe did say the allegations against Battershill were a personnel matter, but refused to go further. Lowe said Battershill's annual salary was $167,000.

The mayor defended the actions of the Victoria Police Board, saying the board was looking to protect taxpayers with regards to the Battershill matter. "We as a police board have acted very appropriately and we are looking after the best interests of the taxpayers," he said. "There are some things within the last nine-and-a-half months that we are unable to disclose only due to the fact that we are bound by the settlement agreement at this time."

Lowe said he believes the police board had no other choice but to suspend Battershill.

Deputy Chief Bill Naughton will remain as interim chief, said Lowe, but the police board has already hired a firm to begin looking for a new chief, who should be hired by November. Naughton said the issues involving the chief proved challenging for the department's rank-and-file members, but the officers never wavered from their duties to the public. "This department has a long and proud history," he said. "The record of accomplishment since October speaks for itself," said Naughton, citing several successful police operations, including the arrest of suspects in connection with a deadly downtown shooting. Naughton said he has not seen the investigation reports on Battershill. He would not say if he will apply for the chief's position.

Battershill, a 20-year Vancouver city police veteran, became Victoria's chief constable in 1999. He was known for supporting innovative policing techniques and led high-profile reviews on the use of Taser stun guns by police and an investigation into alcohol-related incidents at the West Vancouver Police Department.

Ryneveld ordered the RCMP to conduct an investigation under the Police Act but refused to disclose the reason. The entire matter was under a news blackout until a sensitive legal document was leaked to the media last November.

Victoria lawyer David Mulroney said at the time he wrote a letter to the law firm that represents the police department suggesting possible conflicts of interest surrounding the police chief and his knowledge of freedom of information requests involving himself. Mulroney said he represents a client who filed several freedom of information requests that name Battershill and suggested a link between his client's information request and the RCMP's investigation.

The access requests targeted four areas, including the Victoria police department's dismissals without cause, suspensions with pay, expense accounts and employment contracts involving pay equity.

One package of documents Mulroney's client received revealed Battershill had credit card expenses of more than $90,000 since 2004. The documents also show the city paid up to $600,000 in severance to former police department members and officials. The request also asked for all expense and accounting records of the two high-profile reports compiled by Battershill. Mulroney has yet to receive those documents. He asked for all expenses and accounts from the Taser Technology Review conducted by Battershill and its preliminary recommendations in September 2004.

It also asked for all expenses and accounts relating to Battershill's investigation of Const. Lisa of the West Vancouver Police Department on behalf of the B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner.

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