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Police Act changes force departments to work together

May 03 2012

Police departments could be forced to co-operate on major cases, such as trying to catch a serial killer, under proposed changes to B.C.'s Police Act. The changes are also aimed at hunting criminals who cause trouble across multiple police jurisdictions.

Concerns about co-operation were raised in the Vancouver area's missingwomen case, which has seen squabbling and lack of communication between police jurisdictions blamed for the delay in arresting serial killer Robert Pickton.

Changes to the Police Act would allow B.C.'s director of police services to set standards for cooperation and intelligence sharing "among police agencies working concurrently to solve serial homicides, assaults, kidnappings and other serious crimes that span their jurisdictions," the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

They would also ensure police departments adopt "common approaches" that help to quickly identify and arrest dangerous repeat criminals.

The ongoing Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, led by Wally Oppal, has focused on the lack of co-operation between the Coquitlam RCMP and Vancouver Police Department as Pickton picked up vulnerable women from the Downtown Eastside and killed them at his farm in Port Coquitlam.

Pickton wasn't arrested until February 2002, even though investigators received credible tips about the killer in 1998 and 1999.

Since the Pickton inquiry started, B.C. has seen integrated units formed to bring together specialized officers to work across jurisdictions, but there are still gaps. For example, Saanich police opted out of the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit when it was created in 2008, though the department now plan to join the squad, which investigates homicides.

Tom Stamatakis, president of the B.C. Police Association, said the standards are a step in the right direction but there's still a way to go in standardizing how departments investigate crimes, the equipment they use and how major crime detectives are trained.

"It doesn't matter if you work for the RCMP or a municipal police force, we should all be doing things the same way when we're working in the same province," Stamatakis said.

Victoria police deputy chief John Ducker is encouraged by the proposed standards, but said legislating co-operation can only go so far. Police departments don't always have the same priorities, which affects the resources they're willing to commit to a case, Ducker said.

"Control of resources, and who sees what problem as important at what time, is always a sticking point."

It's unclear if the legislation would require police departments to use the same major-case management system, which would alert police departments if similarities cropped up in investigations. For example, if a vehicle linked to a homicide in Victoria turned up later during a robbery arrest in the West Shore, the system would inform investigators.

While all departments in B.C. use the Police Records Information Management Environment for everyday crimes, RCMP detachments and municipal departments use incompatible programs for major cases or sensitive information.

Even within a single department, information can be housed in different databases. A murder file in Victoria would be managed using the RCMP system because the investigation is handled by the major crimes squad. But a robbery handled by Victoria police would be entered into another system.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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