People lodged 735 complaints against B.C. municipal police forces from April 2021 to March 2022, marking a 26 per cent increase from the year before.
B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner released its latest annual report on Tuesday (Nov. 22), revealing a spike in lodged complaints in 10 out of the 14 forces reviewed. Only Port Moody, Abbotsford, Nelson and West Vancouver saw decreases.
The greatest number of complaints were made in larger urban centres, with 393 against Vancouver police, 101 against Victoria police, 49 against Abbotsford police and 48 against Saanich police.
Despite the jump in complaints, however, the number of investigations actually ordered into allegations of misconduct remained almost same. In 2020/21, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered 264 investigations, while in 2021/22 it ordered 261.
Misconduct can include officers abusing their authority, acting corruptly, misusing intoxicants and improperly using firearms, among other things. Officers can be reprimanded in various ways based on the severity of the incident, from being ordered to write apologies to suspended leaves up to dismissal.
While investigations are initially completed by police forces themselves, the police complaint commissioner has the option to review and disagree with their outcomes. This was the case in 17 investigations in 2021/22, an increase from 14 the year prior.
The latest report also revealed a jump – from eight to 11 – in the number of times the commissioner made recommendations for municipal police forces to make broad changes in the last year.
“These include recommendations on police matters involving E-Comm communications, firearms calls, sexual assault investigations and trauma-informed practice, items or practices of cultural significance in use of force scenarios, external expertise in handcuffing and detention policy, appropriate use of outside firms, workplace culture, and strengthening the independence of police boards and ensuring sufficient transparency and responsiveness,” the report reads.
In his own statement within the report, Police Complaint Commissioner Clayton Pecknold emphasized the importance of having an independent body to hold police accountable.
“Policing institutions are strong, and consistent advocates for their interests, having considerable access to the halls of power within the levels of government. This access is often hidden from the view of the public and far outstrips the access available to the average British Columbian; most significantly to those who are vulnerable or marginalized,” he said.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner oversees complaints and investigations involving municipal police in B.C. It does not oversee the RCMP.
In total in 2021/22, the office opened 1,528 files, including complaints, misconduct and serious harm investigations, questions and internal discipline. That’s a nine per cent increase from the year prior.