Watchdog calls for review of VPD workplace relationship policies after officer takes own life

VPD Const. Nicole Chan took her own life after reporting relationships with two senior officers. Global News

B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) is recommending the Vancouver Police Board hire an independent outside agency to help it review policies around workplace relationships involving power dynamics or vulnerable employees.

The recommendation came Friday as the OPCC announced there would be no public hearing in the case of a senior Vancouver Police Department (VPD) sergeant who was dismissed after having an inappropriate relationship with a junior officer who later took her own life.

READ MORE: Vancouver police officer’s dismissal ordered over relationship with constable who died by suicide

Sgt. Dave Van Patten entered into a relationship with Const. Nicole Chan while Van Patten was a human resources officer for the department.

An investigation ordered by the OPCC wrapped up in December 2018, concluding three allegations of discreditable conduct against Van Patten were substantiated. Van Patten was ordered dismissed in January.

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Van Patten declined a public hearing in the case, and the OPCC now says it has also declined to order one.

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The OPCC has now released some of the more detailed findings of Transit Police Chief Dave Jones, who led the investigation.

Jones said that the allegations were “extremely serious,” noting that Const. Chan was under Van Patten’s supervision.

READ MORE: Vancouver police chief confirms investigation into allegations from VPD officer who later died by suicide

“He not only maintained a relationship with an individual who was junior in rank and service, but who was experiencing mental health-related issues,” found Jones.

“He sought to maintain privacy of their relationship, to the detriment of both of them, and the Vancouver Police Department as a whole.”

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Jones added that Van Patten had made an agreement with Chan not to talk about their relationship with anyone, which included mental health professionals Chan was seeing for treatment.

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The investigation also found that Van Patten had used false pretenses to get access to another officer’s phone, copied communications from it, then used them towards Chan “in a threatening manner.”

Chan came forward in 2017 with accusations of inappropriate relationships with two senior officers at a time when her sister said she was struggling with anxiety and depression.

After being put on stress leave for a second time following her speaking out, the nine-year veteran of the VPD took her own life in January 2019.

The second senior officer, Greg McCullough, was given a 15-day suspension, in part for “entering into a relationship knowing Nicole was in a vulnerable state, mentally and emotionally.” He later resigned from the force.

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READ MORE: VPD officer dies by suicide after filing report against 2 senior officers

The OPCC said Friday that the two cases, when considered together, “raise concerns regarding the sufficiency of policies and programs governing workplace relationships at the Vancouver Police Department, in particular those involving persons in supervisory or leadership positions such as these two sergeants.”

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The agency says the Vancouver Police Board should hire an independent third-party expert in human resources management that is not connected to any Canadian police department to help it review policies around workplace relationships.

It also said the final report produced by the expert should be made public.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he has not had a chance yet to read the report.

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“We have a very high quality police force here and the board takes it’s job absolutely seriously, so at this point I’m reading through the report and we’ll see what we come up with, and we’ll be discussing it as a board at the next meeting,” he said.

If the board doesn’t act on the recommendation, the OPCC says B.C.’s Director of Police Services should conduct its own audit of VPD human resources policies dealing with the same matters.

–With files from Sean Boynton