Often, well maybe not often; but occasionally, a small tinge of guilt washes over this blogger when finding myself caught up in writing a seemingly unending narrative of incompetence, inefficiency and political nonsense which has been affecting our National Police Force. It seems to imply that no good work is coming out of the Scarlet force, which is not accurate, but it also seems to imply that this is a phenomena only found in this increasingly burdened institution.
As I write this, another video has surfaced taking aim at the RCMP police response to a remote Indigenous community where the officer, gun drawn, is screaming at the arrestee that he is going to kill him. Off with his head the sanctimonious Indigenous scream, the ‘breaking news’ media jumps on board, and near the end of the story you find out that the man was actually in possession of a machete and was being arrested in the heat of the moment. But I digress.
The Mounties are wearing a dark silhouette in the media range at all times, awash in nonsense, but we should not lose sight of the fact that other municipal and Provincial Forces are assuredly giving them some hearty competition for dunce cap awards. There is a pandemic in the world of policing; seemingly fuelled by politicalization, but its stem cells are inexperience and the evaporation of supervision.
A couple of months ago, the Vancouver City Police were exposed.
Recently, well regarded Justice James Williams (a former RCMP officer in years gone by- with impeccable credentials) took aim at the Vancouver Police Department and the investigators involved during the trial for Project “Trooper”.
Let there be no mistake, this is not about the Vancouver Police simply stumbling and falling in an investigation, the investigators in this case managed to blow up this case in grand fashion.
They never learned, we find out, that there is a Charter of Rights in this country and once in awhile you have to pay it some attention.
Again, this was not some low level drug case or a break and enter case that got effectively gutted, these officers displayed their lack of investigational chops on one of the biggest fentanyl trafficking cases in Vancouver.
You remember fentanyl? That drug which is causing hundreds of people to die. It is hard to imagine that the Vancouver Police Department investigators missed the myriad of stories and newscasts talking about this latest killer of the downtrodden. Hard to believe that they did not realize the importance of this case and the media attention it would garner.
At the conclusion of this 7 month long investigation, Supt. Mike Porteous boasted of the great impact resulting from their investigation, as he stood before the usual display of guns and drugs spread out before him.
And it was good work.
They seized $1.8 million in drugs, 20.5 kgs of cocaine, 1.6 kgs of heroin, 12.2 kgs of methamphetamine, 23,000 fentanyl pills, and 228 kgs of phenacetin.
Just as significantly they also seized twelve guns, a crossbow and eight vehicles.
A good haul and at the time that deserved a round of applause and the Vancouver Police Department upper echelon certainly did not miss the opportunity to present themselves as crime fighters of the highest order.
A total of six people were arrested and charged, with the kingpin Dennis Alexander Halstead as the primary target, and Jason James Heyman as a secondary “business” associate.
A couple of the dealers in the group, Charleen Terresa Fintray and Cameron Mak, probably as not well represented, pled guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking on two counts and are now awaiting sentencing. With little doubt they are now kicking themselves for cashing in early with a guilty plea.
Of course anytime you put yourself on a pedestal, there is always the danger that someone will along and kick out the stool beneath your feet.
Four years after the arrests in 2015 we now learn that the senior investigative drug echelon of the Vancouver Police Department didn’t seem to comprehend when a search or a general warrant is required.
In summing up the various misdeeds, Justice Williams pointed out some of Charter breaches by the Vancouver City Police and summarized that “These breaches, considered individually and cumulatively are of such seriousness and impact that, having regard to all the circumstances, admitting that evidence in the trial proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute”.
Somewhat sadly he then added, “society deserves a better outcome”.
Some basic tenets of an investigation and the tools that are commonplace in any investigator toolbox seems to have been misplaced, overlooked or ignored.
The circumstances under which a warrant is needed and how the results of searches needed to be reported, seems to have been an illusive concept to these future Serpico’s.
So what happened? Was this a case of a Judge stretching the rules and provisions of the Charter as some in blue may argue. Unfortunately, that does not seem to have been the case.
First, the VPD set up a months long video surveillance of the residence without a warrant. The courts have long held that if police are going to train a camera at a residence, that it is intrusive, and therefore requires judicial authorization. The VPD ignored this.
The VPD then swabbed vehicles and residences associated to the suspects; also without a warrant.
Not quite done yet, the investigators also obtained passport photos of the individuals; again without warrant.
As a result of these breaches, the subsequent searches of Halstead’s Coquitlam home, Heyman’s Surrey apartment, and an alleged ‘stash’ house in New Westminster on March 11, 2015 were all effectively ruled warrantless and therefore breaches of the accused rights.
There were a total of seven searches conducted, involving six or nine officers at each location. So there was a total of between 42 and 63 officers during this operation, all overseen by an Inspector. Suffice to say that there was a significant number of officers involved throughout the case, who collectively, apparently did not know some basic law.
There were more breaches.
When arrested, the Judge ruled that the police stalled the accused when they asked to speak to their lawyers.
They then failed to file reports of the searches in a “timely manner”.
The delay in access to counsel interestingly was under the guidance of the Inspector in charge himself. The Inspector made an arbitrary decision to delay allowing the accused counsel, then when called into question in court, he could not explain the reasons for which he had issued the temporary order.
The reports which were delayed and called into question centred around the Form referred to as a 5.2. This report is made to the Courts when police seize items from an accused under or not under warrant which according to the Criminal Code needs to be filled out as “soon as practicable” and is generally done within a few days of any seizure once all exhibits have been catalogued. It is a bureaucratic necessity, tedious to say the least, but central to the rules of search and seizure, and the principle and the form are taught at the most basic levels of policing academies.
Judge Williams stated that “it is somewhat disconcerting that VPD training was inadequate in this regard”. He further adds that it was apparent that “there was no supervision in place…”
It should be noted that the officers did file the reports. But they did so several weeks after the seizures. When questioned at trial as to the delays, one officer stated that “she had to deal with the evidence as to her other police activities…”. In other words, she was busy.
A second officer excused the delay as she was “ill for some time after the search warrant execution and that her work schedule was limited (she worked a four day per week shift assignment) together with the volume of the police work she had to do….” So she too was busy and this was compounded by her limited work schedule.
One of the above officers testified as to not knowing there was a time limit on filing the 5.2 report, but guessed it was “60 days” and was unaware as to it being as “soon as practicable”.
There was one officer who was involved in a search of a Rochester Avenue address who simply did not fill out the form as required by Section 489 of the Criminal Code.
All of the officers involved in the breaches of the reporting were Detective Constables. Officers one would assume who were selected and elevated from the street units due to their abilities to these specialized units.
Confronted by the media as to the reasons for this implosion and the VPD now facing the possibility of having to return some of the seized items while watching the primary suspects walk out the courtroom doors; the Vancouver City Police stated: “No comment”.
No doubt banking on the passage of time to wipe out any memories of this incident.
Were there any repercussions for any of the officers involved? Not likely.
Was there any accounting of all the monies being spent in this case, all to no avail? Also not likely.
What is the most frustrating of all this is that these errors were not grievous in terms of the actions or more accurately the lack of action on the part of the officers.
This case was lost because of a lazy and disquieting unawareness of the basic principles of investigation, committed by officers with some seniority who missed the lessons covered in basic academy training. How is this possible. The Form 5.2 through mere repetition during the course of an officer rising up through the ranks should have been an involuntary response to the seizures.
The Inspector who ordered a delay in allowing the accused to access counsel may have been allowed, if only he could have articulated reasons that can often validate such a course of action.
The investigators who placed cameras at the residence have no excuses.
The Crown counsel who reviewed this file prior to charge, and prepped for the court case should have seen this breach upon further examination causing one to wonder what level of scrutiny did the Crown undertake before embarking on a lengthy and costly trial.
Of course, Crown is always unaccountable in this Province.
Inexperience and a lack of supervision were on full display.
As one who had the utmost respect for the Vancouver City Police and who worked jointly with many in the Major Crime sections through the years, this case was a revelation.
The investigative officers of the VPD in earlier times always exuded experience and court savvy. It is unfathomable to think that in those earlier times they would not have been up on the latest court rulings regarding search and seizure and would not have forgotten to fill out the basic paperwork. They also would have spent many years getting to these specialized sections.
It seems to be time for the Vancouver City Police to re-group. Supervision and training need to once again come to the forefront in trying to overcome the vast loss of credibility and experience that logistically, like all police agencies, has impaired them as an organization.
They are fortunate in being an organization of about 1300 officers; it is a ship that can be turned, unlike the RCMP group of 28,000 who are under the helm of the Liberal party in Ottawa who insist on steering the ship towards the iceberg, while the orchestra plays on.
This is the age of close examination of everything the police do, they are on trial not the accused. It is not the time when one cannot forget or ignore the law or the building blocks of investigation. It is expected of them and it should be demanded of them by their supervisors.
There is a general need for all police to get back to basics. Let’s spend less time on initiatives blowing in the political winds, less time worrying about gaining acceptance in the various ethnic, religious or gender groups and more time on delivering a case through the courts. Less time on media spin, more time on understanding the ever changing laws of this country.
The public in this country need to see the police as fair, thorough and competent, unswayed by political machinations or initiatives. They are the backbone of the justice system from which all else flows and the public needs to trust them.
Does the public care when they have been victimized that the officer is short, tall, black, white, male or female? What they want is to know that the officer is a professional.
The public does not want police department empathy, what it needs is to know that if they bring forward a complaint that it would be investigated thoroughly and honestly, without prejudice.
The mandate of the police despite the many social worker styled popular policing initiatives remains the same. The police are there to understand and enforce the laws in this country in an objective manner that withstands scrutiny.
That in itself is a massive undertaking requiring great vigilance.
What separates a good investigation from a bad investigation, or a good officer from a mediocre officer is in the details. The devil as the VPD found out, is in those details.
What does the public want?
They want the Blue Wall back.
Photo courtesy of Kris Krug via Flickr Commons…Some Rights Reserved