‘I’m worried’: Head of B.C.’s police watchdog says staffing levels critical

Click to play video: 'Independent Investigations Office says it is at ‘crisis’ staffing levels'
Independent Investigations Office says it is at ‘crisis’ staffing levels
The head of the independent agency that investigates police in B.C. says he is severaly understaffed, and that's compromising their ability to do their jobs to keep police accountable. Rumina Daya reports – Feb 6, 2023

Staff and resources at the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) are stretched so thin that important cases are taking longer than they should to be resolved.

“We’re supposed to have 30 front-line investigators to deal with the caseload that was around in 2017, 2018. We only have 19 front-line investigators right now and our caseload is almost doubled,” Ron MacDonald, chief civilian director at the IIO told Global News.

The IIO investigates police-related incidents resulting in death or serious harm to determine whether any officer may have committed an offence.

It recently faced criticism for being one of the agencies that took six years to recommend charges against five B.C. RCMP officers following the death of Indigenous man Dale Culver in Prince George, B.C., in 2017.

“If I had my way, I would prefer to have about 36 front-line investigators and some additional staff on top of that,” MacDonald said. “So really, we’re almost in that sense at half strength, dealing with twice as many cases.

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And our people are run off their feet. They’re exhausted. Some are at the point of breakout burnout. I’m actually quite worried about their welfare. And the impact is that our cases are taking at least 50 per cent longer to get done. None of this is the way it should be.

“So right now, I consider the situation to be quite dire because I’m worried that we might lose further investigators due to the current situation.”

Click to play video: 'Family of Dale Culver questions why manslaughter charges took so long'
Family of Dale Culver questions why manslaughter charges took so long

Read more: 5 Prince George, B.C. Mounties charged in 2017 death of Indigenous man

MacDonald said he knows the devastation that long wait times have on people’s families and friends.

He said he has proposed solutions to the government but has not yet received any final responses.

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Niki Sharma, B.C.’s Attorney General, said Monday that the staffing challenges at the IIO are issues the government is taking “very seriously.”

“Six years is too long to finish an investigation so we need to come up with solutions for that,” she said.

Currently, any former police officers cannot be hired at the IIO until after five years have elapsed since they left policing.

Sharma said flexibility is one of the issues they are examining.

She said she will be meeting with MacDonald soon.

“Clearly it’s a serious issue and you can see how important the investigation office is when it comes to tragic issues that happen,” Sharma added.

Click to play video: 'IIO releases Saanich bank shootout report'
IIO releases Saanich bank shootout report

MacDonald said one of the biggest issues at the moment is the compensation structure.

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“Currently, our base pay is at least 15 per cent lower than competitive positions and we don’t pay overtime. And I need to stress that we don’t pay overtime to people who get called down at all hours of the day and night to go to respond to these cases. So their overall compensation rate is much lower than competitive positions.”

He added that with the extremely high workload, he would like to be able to hire former police officers less than five years off the job but he cannot.

“So the compensation structure, the limitations on those types of people I can hire are key, key problems right now,” MacDonald said. “And we need those to be fixed.”

MacDonald said if the IIO is not able to respond to cases in a timely way, he knows the public is going to lose faith in what they do.”

“My greatest fear is that we’re not going to be able to do our job at all,” he said. “I fear that we could get to a situation where we can’t respond to a new case. Right now, our goal has always been, since my arrival here in 2017 to conduct thorough, objective and timely investigations.

“We’re not conducting timely investigations at this point in time and time. And this is a critical, important part of oversight.”

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— with files from Rumina Daya

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