Mandatory inquests urged when police kill

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TORONTO – Coroner’s inquests should be mandatory whenever police kill someone by gunning them down or through other use of force, a review of police oversight in Ontario recommended on Thursday.

In addition, the Independent Police Oversight Review is calling for the province’s Special Investigations Unit to report publicly on all its investigations, including providing detailed accounts in those cases where no charges are laid against an officer.

The recommendations by Appeal Court Justice Michael Tulloch, who headed the review, are among 129 in his 263-page report.

“Police oversight, the police and the communities they serve are inextricably intertwined,” Tulloch states. “Modern policing, after all, is founded on public trust.”

Tulloch spent much of the past year looking at the three civilian agencies charged with overseeing police in Ontario with a view to enhancing their efficiency and credibility.

Among the frequently maligned agencies, the best known is the Special Investigations Unit — or SIU — which investigates when police kill someone, cause serious injury, or are accused of sexual assault.

Tulloch recommends legislating when police must call in the SIU and an officers’ obligations to co-operate with the agency. The SIU should be notified any time an officer fires at a person — regardless of the outcome — and the agency should have the power to lay charges on its own, he says.

To encourage officers to raise concerns about the conduct of their colleagues, the review urges the government to ensure effective whistleblower protections are in place to allow internal complaints “without fear of reprisal.”

The SIU has faced criticism over its penchant for secrecy and its use of ex-police officers as investigators, but Tulloch says he is not prepared to suggest a ban on former officers working for the agency or for another police oversight agency, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director — the OIPRD.

It’s important, he says, to look at individuals and their skills rather than their former jobs given that non-officers could be biased as well.

“That said, I recommend that the oversight bodies should do more to increase their complement of high quality investigators who do not have a background in policing,” Tulloch states in his report.

The SIU should only release the names of subject officers if charges are laid, he says, as generally happens with civilians under investigation.

Tulloch also urges the SIU wrap up investigations within 120 days. He also wants the agency to release past reports in those cases where police killed someone, as part of a detailed reporting mandate that allows the public to understand its decisions.

“Public accountability is a crucial foundation of the SIU,” he says.

In terms of the OIPRD, Tulloch calls for changes that include giving it a new name, and the power to investigate potential officer misconduct without a formal complaint, and to lay disciplinary charges, currently a task usually left to an officer’s chief.

Officers should be required by law to co-operate with its investigations, the report states, and the complaints process itself should be made more accessible to the public.

“I heard that this was not always the case,” he says.

Among Tulloch’s most far-reaching recommendations are those that focus on the police disciplinary process.

Exclusive responsibility for adjudicating discipline arising out of public complaints should be given to a reworked Ontario Civilian Police Commission, currently the least known of the three civilian oversight agencies, Tulloch says.

Independent prosecutors and adjudicators selected by the Ministry of the Attorney General should handle public complaints, and appeal of misconduct decisions would go to Divisional Court.

The agency, which would be stripped of its non-adjudicative functions, should publicize the results of charges and track officers who are subject of multiple complaints, the report recommends.

Overall, Tulloch recommends legislation for the three oversight bodies that is separate from the Police Services Act, as is currently the case. All three should also fall under the auspices of the provincial ombudsman, he says.

The review also urges the three agencies develop greater social and cultural competency, and be tasked with collecting demographic data such as gender, age, race religion, ethnicity.

“Data collection offers many benefits,” Tulloch says. “It supports evidence-based public policy and decision making (and) promotes accountability and transparency.”

During his review, Tulloch heard from more than 1,500 individuals in 18 public consultations and at more than 130 private meetings.

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