U.S. lawyer heads B.C. police oversight

The B.C. government has hired the former police oversight specialist from Denver as its first civilian director.

Premier Christy Clark and Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond introduce Richard Rosenthal as the new director of investigations for serious incidents involving police.

The B.C. government has hired the former police oversight specialist from Denver to head the province’s new Independent Investigations Office.

Richard Rosenthal was deputy district attorney in Los Angeles before moving to Portland to establish their independent police office, then moved to his current job as independent monitor for the city and county of Denver. He starts setting up the new B.C. office in January, and wants to have it ready to investigate deaths and serious injuries involving police starting in mid-2012.

The B.C. government committed to a civilian-led agency after a string of incidents involving RCMP and city police forces. The office was recommended after inquiries into the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport, and Frank Paul, who was removed from the Vancouver Police drunk tank in 1998 and left unconscious in an alley.

The 2005 gunshot death of Ian Bush in the RCMP detachment in Houston, B.C. was another case that pushed the B.C. government to end the practice of police incidents being investigated by other police forces. The independent office will also bring B.C. RCMP officers under civilian oversight.

Asked at a news conference in Vancouver Wednesday if Denver police were happy to see him go, Rosenthal replied that he introduced a rule there that officers who lie to internal affairs investigators are fired. That was a “change in culture,” he said.

Rosenthal said he also wants to study cases of deadly force to learn from them, an approach that reduced police shootings in Denver from 12 to 15 a year to four or five.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Fraser MacRae was on hand for the announcement, and said he looks forward to working with Rosenthal’s office.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said the office location and budget can now be finalized, as Rosenthal decides how much staff he needs. Rosenthal also plans to meet with civilian oversight offices in Alberta and Ontario.

Bond said civilian oversight of police is still new to Canada, and B.C. was fortunate to find a candidate who has set up two investigative offices and is willing to take on a third.

Initially, the Independent Investigations Office (IIC) will restrict itself to cases of death or serious injury in police incidents. Bond said the mandate could expand after periodic reviews by a legislative committee.