Overloaded and underfunded: B.C.'s police watchdog calls for funding as investigations slow
B.C.’s police watchdog says its investigations are taking too long, as its short-staffed team struggles to keep up with a growing workload.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) has taken on nine new cases since the beginning of April, putting its total number of open cases to 86.
"I’m really concerned about the IIO's abilities to continue to do the job going forward," chief civilian director Ron MacDonald told CTV News.
Several new cases came in over the weekend, including a man’s death in Campbell River, following a shootout with RCMP. MacDonald said he had to call in investigators who were off work in order to adequately respond to the weekend incidents.
"We’ve handled it by the good will and effort of my team," he said.
But, good will can only go so far, he added.
The IIO is funded for 30 frontline investigators, but currently only has 24.
"The way [a staff shortage] can affect investigations is that we wouldn’t have enough people to respond to a case and that would be nearly disastrous," he said.
Ideally, he said shooting investigations would wrap in nine months, while all other cases would close in six. Many of the IIO’s cases have been open for far longer than that.
"We’re underpaying [investigators]," MacDonald said. "It’s hard to keep people because of that; it’s hard to attract people. Bottom line is it’s just not fair."
The head of the IIO has requested that the organization not be bound to provincial salary guidelines, which he says limits how much it can pay staff, and doesn't allow for overtime pay.
B.C.’s Public Service Agency denied that request, MacDonald said.
He’s also asking the province for an additional $2.9 million annually, on top of the office’s $9.1 million budget.
The goal of both requests is to grow the frontline team to 40 investigators, with salaries that can compete with those of police constables.
"The gap is tens of thousands of dollars," MacDonald said.
B.C.'s attorney general says he wants to help find a solution.
"I don’t want to prejudge what those solutions will be, but we will work with the IIO to make sure that they have the resources they need to get the job done," said David Eby in an interview with CTV in March.
"The IIO does need the resources to do these investigations and we do demand a very high standard of investigation from them," he said.
Eby said that while it's worth considering allowing the IIO to hire former police officers, he’s reluctant to do that, noting the watchdog’s strength is being civilian-run.
"If we have to go there we will," he said. "There’s a limited group of people that have… the skills to do a thorough investigation if they’re not former police officers."
Even with a bigger pool of potential applicants, MacDonald said the IIO still couldn’t offer competitive salaries in its current state.
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