Friday, December 22, 2000

Jonathan Jenkins

Fantino rips watchdog

Current SIU may not be effective, efficient: Chief

There's little to show for 10 years of overseeing the police by the civilian Special Investigations Unit other than anger and frustration, Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino said yesterday.

"I have been, from day one, saying the same things (and) people have not been listening to me," Fantino said. "I think the law is flawed.

"Trying to make it work … for the last 10 years is attaining the same results — frustration, disappointment, an element of anger and now we have lawsuits flying around. So I suppose I could say I told you so," he said.

The comments came only days after the latest round of acquittals in high-profile cases investigated by the provincial SIU, which has probed incidents of civilian injury during police operations since 1990.

A Whitby jury acquitted two York constables and a Durham officer on all charges in the fatal shooting of Tony Romagnuolo and the wounding of his teenage son, Rocco.

Although the SIU has earned convictions in some high-profile police shootings — OPP acting Sgt. Ken Deane was convicted of criminal negligence in 1997 and Toronto Const. Carl Sokolowski was convicted of careless use of a firearm in 1994 — and others remain before the courts, most of the 48 instances in which the unit has supported charges in the past 10 years have ended in acquittals.

Fantino said he was hesitant to "get into the fray" over the SIU, saying while he supports the principle of civilians overseeing police, he's concerned the system now in place may not be effective or efficient.

"All I can say is the performance of the unit is out there," said Fantino, who has backed proposals to limit the type of injury the SIU investigates. "The facts speak for themselves."

SIU spokesman Jon Ansell acknowledged the unit has not returned a high percentage of convictions, but pointed out that it's the Crown's job to win in court.

"We only take the ball to the two-yard line; it's the Crown that goes in for the touchdown," he said.

Ansell wouldn't comment on the Romagnuolo case, as the York Regional Police Association is considering legal action.

But he did say many cases that go to trial could be avoided if police officers under investigation agreed to speak with SIU investigators instead of invoking their right to remain silent.

"If they come in and talk to us, maybe there's no trial," Ansell said, adding many cops view the SIU as the "big bad wolf."

In the last 11 incidences in which an SIU investigation led to charges, only once did a subject officer speak to the unit, Ansell said.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: December 22, 2000
Last modified: December 22, 2000
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