The number of serious injuries and deaths resulting from encounters with police in B.C. is increasing, and the provincial watchdog says it’s struggling to keep up with investigating them all.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. was notified of 158 officer-involved incidents of harm or death in 2017 and 117 in 2018, according to its data. In 2019, that jumped to 189 and then 224 in 2020. The number of investigations fell to 200 in 2021.
The IIO is an independent, civilian-led oversight agency required to investigate what role, if any, officer actions or inactions have any time an encounter with police results in injury or death.
So far, in the first eight months of 2022, the IIO has been deployed to 137 cases.
What’s made this year particularly difficult though is an unprecedented number of police-involved shootings, according to the IIO’s Chief Civilian Director Ronald MacDonald.
Between April 1 and Aug. 23, there have been 16 such shootings – the typical average is seven within a year.
MacDonald said he doesn’t know what’s causing the increase, but that he and his team are feeling the impacts.
They’ve recently made the decision to start tackling cases by public interest rather than in chronological order, in an attempt to get the ones they consider the most important out in a somewhat timely manner.
MacDonald couldn’t provide an exact estimate of how long investigations are now taking to complete. He did say that when he took over as chief civilian director in 2017 he reduced investigation times by about one-third – a success he’s now seeing reversed.
Beyond the impact delayed investigations have on those directly involved in the police incidents, MacDonald said it also deteriorates public trust.
“The longer it takes and the longer people go without answers, the more difficult it is for them to have faith in a system.”
He said the investigations office is struggling to fill its empty positions because the salaries and benefits it offers through the province aren’t competitive enough. Of 30 investigator positions, Ronald said they only have 20 filled. They’re also shy two people on their four-person forensic team.
Ronald said the IIO is currently making submission to the provincial government to increase its resources.
In a statement, the public safety ministry said it is working with the IIO to “help address their challenges.”