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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Complaints against Mounties need to be more transparent: Watchdog

January 29, 2009
By Janice Tibbetts, Vancouver Sun

Review of the RCMP's Public Complaint Records

OTTAWA — The RCMP resolve too many serious complaints informally, including allegations of excessive force, injuring people, and firing Taser stun guns and pepper spray, says the independent watchdog for the national police force.

In a report released Thursday, the Commission of Public Complaints Against the RCMP warned that the Mounties could undermine public trust if they do not make their complaints process more formal, thorough, transparent and consistent nationwide.

"The commission is concerned that the RCMP has informally resolved serious allegations typically involving use of force," said the report, which was the agency's first national examination of how the RCMP resolve complaints. "This severely undermines the public complaints process and limits the effectiveness of police oversight."

The report said that 3,104 allegations were made against the RCMP in 2007. Almost one-third involved neglect of duty, while 20 per cent were for improper attitude and 13 per cent were for improper use of force.

The commission said that the RCMP settled 30 per cent of complaints through an informal process, and that the paper work was often shoddy. For instance, it was sometimes unclear what course of corrective action, if any, was taken or even whether the implicated Mountie knew of the complaint.

Almost half of the allegations involving the improper use of force were resolved informally "in a manner the commission deemed inappropriate," said the report.

"We have cases where the Taser has been used, pepper spray has been used and the ones when the use of force resulted in injury, all of which have fallen under the heading of informal resolution and I don't think this stuff qualifies," said Paul Kennedy, chair of the complaints commission.

The study uncovered incidents where complainants required medical attention after an officer used excessive force, but the allegations were still handled informally.

Any complaint involving excessive force should be handled formally by RCMP investigators not connected to the incident and they should issue reports on their findings that include recommendations, said Kennedy.

The commission also fingered the Mounties for not having a clear definition of "serious misconduct" — the bar for requiring a formal investigation rather than an informal one.

The informal process was most often used in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, said the report.

The report notes that the commission has received mixed reaction from the RCMP when seeking more information about complaints that were handled informally. In some cases, the RCMP revisited the complaints in question but at other times, detachments asserted that their initial probes had been sufficient.

The findings come at a time when the RCMP are under scrutiny for its use of Tasers, including an ongoing public inquiry in Vancouver into the death of Robert Dziekanski, who died at the Vancouver International Airport in October 2007 after he had been Tasered five times.

Earlier this month, Kennedy announced the commission would conduct a separate investigation involving the approximately 10 people who have died by Taser shots since the RCMP started using the stun guns in 2001.

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