Friday, January 22, 1999

John Duncanson

p. A1.

Police union casts private eyes on SIU

Officers want their own investigations into incidents

The Toronto police union has hired its own private detectives to carry out parallel probes of incidents like police shootings to keep an eye on Ontario's special investigations unit, The Star has learned.

The Toronto Police Association has retained about a dozen investigators, including private eyes and former homicide detectives, said Craig Bromell, president of the 7,000-member union. Sources say the investigators are already working on SIU cases, but Bromell wouldn't confirm that.

The move is part of the union's policy of aggressively challenging police critics, government agencies and the politicians it feels are treating police unfairly.

Bromell said yesterday that the team of investigators could also be called into action when an officer is under investigation by the force's internal affairs unit. For now, the private detectives are being hired on case-by-case basis, but a permanent, full-time squad could be established, he said.

The union leader is expecting the plan to be criticized, but he maintains the police association has a duty and legal right to ensure the SIU and internal affairs unit carry out fair and complete investigations when probing the conduct of its members.

"It's totally legal and we will be totally professional about it," Bromell said. He described the investigators as top-notch detectives and better than the ex-police officers working for the provincial SIU.

Although Bromell said the union wants to be up front about what it is doing. He wouldn't say who the association has hired or which SIU cases they may be looking into. The union leader said the plan officially began Jan. 1, although sources say some investigators were working in December.

Police attorneys could use reports to defend officers

One concern for the SIU will be whether the union's detectives have access to "subject" officers, who normally don't give statements to civilian investigators because they are the focus of a criminal probe.

SIU spokesperson Gail Scala said yesterday that the agency is prepared to deal with the issues if it arises. "It would be another factor to consider in the course of our investigation."

The union has no plans to interview subject or even witness officers, but will gather information from civilian witnesses and other sources it believes the SIU often misses, Bromell said.

"We won't get in the SIU's way. They won't even notice we are there," he said, adding the union's investigators will interview civilian witnesses only after the SIU has finished taking statements.

On Jan. 1, the SIU was given new powers under the Police Services Act to ensure officers would co-operate with the agency, which probes incidents in which citizens are seriously injured or killed by police.

Under the regulations, a police chief can carry out his own probe into an incident involving his officers, but the SIU is, by law, in charge of the criminal investigation. The primary role of a police chief's investigation is to determine whether the force's policies need to be addressed.

There are no restrictions or rules under the regulations that govern police unions. In essence, union investigators could conduct a full, criminal-type probe and come to a different conclusion than the SIU.

If charges are laid against officers in a SIU case, attorneys for the police could use the information from union investigators as part of their defence.

The union could also submit its findings to the attorney-general's office, which oversees the SIU and gets a report from the agency once it has completed an investigation.

A spokesperson for the attorney-general's office did not return The Star's calls yesterday. Toronto police Chief David Boothby was not immediately available for comment.

The police union has made it known for months that it was gearing up for a major attack on the SIU and others it deemed were bringing "unnecessary hardship" on police officers.

In December, the union voted on its final plan, which included the approval of a multi-million-dollar war chest to hire investigators and pay for ad campaigns.

Bromell won't say how much the union is paying its detectives, but said it is looking at hiring more. As well, the union will consider requests from other police associations that want to carry out parallel probes when the SIU is involved.

The union is in the process of hiring a civil litigation firm to handle lawsuits against people and organizations it feels are unfairly condemning the police.

Toronto Police clippings... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: March 6, 1999
Last modified: March 8, 1999

J.D. Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710