Going Gently into the Homicide Night…

On the now widely circulated dash cam footage, on a clear sunny day near the Vancouver International Airport, a black Honda Pilot flies through an intersection, a witness recording the chase excitedly exclaiming that there was a shot fired. A few seconds later, the police car slowly drifts up into the camera angle, to the same intersection, slowly coasting to a stop. A fitting metaphor to the ponderous decline of the abilities of new age policing. The gentler, kinder, softer police up against a rash of gang related homicides which are now plaguing the lower mainland of British Columbia.   

As maddening as it was to watch a police officer give up on a pursuit of these brazen suspects, who had a few seconds before, emptied a clip into Karman Grewal— no apparent inner rage on the part of the officer at having been shot at— it was even more frustrating to watch the spin of the executives of the police brass as they scramble to make the old failed attempts at gang intervention and containment look new. 

One should disregard the ridiculous often asinine media commentary of the last number of days with their simplistic pronouncements and their exclamations of how the police need to do more. The police executive are 21st century conditioned now though, to  always respond to the media inanities, no matter how futile the exercise, while at the same time only capable of trotting out the usual 20th century bromides.  

Spokesperson for the responding Integrated Homicide Team Sgt Frank Jang, in a presser at the Airport, implores those misunderstood gangsters to “Please don’t kill one another”.  In feigned disbelief he laments and states the obvious, that these incorrigibles “are putting us all in jeopardy”. 

Other police responses are equally predictable. “More visible police presence” exclaims the new CFSEU head, Assistant Commissioner Manny Mann, who explains that there are “more gangs than there were 11 years ago” . Don’t fret he says, they are going to counter with ”intelligence led policing”.  

Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, now head of Federal, Investigative Services and Organized Crime (FISOC) assures the public that the police are “working around the clock” to solve the 10 shootings since April. 

Solicitor General Mike Farnsworth had a meeting with all the LMD police executives wherein they “share their collected and unified strategies”. Assuring all that will listen, that there was an “intelligence led enforcement under way” and that they were engaged in “proactive enforcement”. This is followed by the obligatory “your safety is our number one priority”. The subsequent police press release from this meeting signed by all the Chiefs assured us that they will “not waver in our relentless pursuit to prevent, suppress and investigate”. (They should have sent that memo to the police officer in Richmond— at least the part about the relentless pursuit.) 

Over the last number of years as policing transitioned to social work, there was the singular  solution to this mess. Sociological bandages all coming from a friendlier, more understanding and diverse police departments, all playing on the theme of prevention. The need to stop these kids from entering the gangs in the first place was the stated belief. 

“Stop Now and Plan” (SNAP), “Multi-Agency School Support Team” (MAAST-Calgary), “Wraparound”, then “High Fidelity Wraparound” which was “a complex, multi-faceted intervention strategy aimed at youth crime and gang prevention”. “Youth at Risk Development” (YARD- Calgary) “Positive Attention to Youth Gangs” (PAYG), “Regina Anti-Gang Services Project” (RAGS). And in Abbotsford in 2013 the “In it Together” campaign.  

The latest academic treatise which has been making the rounds;  the Irving Spergel Comprehensive Gang Prevention Model (Dr. Spergel is from the University of Chicago). 

None of the above programs could ever be proven to be effective, so they proffer up anecdotal evidence of a young person turning the corner. It should be considered  irrelevant to the gang homicide discussion. No program ever admits defeat however, but if they do it is almost always blamed on a lack of funding or “limited police capacity”. By the way Sgt Jang is now asking parents to report on their kids which is probably not in the spirit of the afore mentioned programs. 

Other most recent solutions include the Vancouver City Police have putting out a poster with several persons they describe as being at “risk”, people you shouldn’t be around. Presumably these are aimed at people who already hang around the chain wearing Mercedes driving bad guys, directing them to run the other way and maybe call CrimeStoppers and see if you can get a reward for their efforts. One has to also wonder the criteria for selection for this recent imitation of a wild west “Wanted” poster, but you can be rest assured that the individuals chosen will see this as a medal and not a blemish on their budding Scarface careers. 

The Delta PD, for their part have recently introduced an “interdiction” team, rather than a target team. When in doubt, change the name. 

The National Police Federation in one of the silliest statements during this time, is urging the new Surrey Police Force to stop recruiting from the other departments as it is hurting in their gang fight. (This is the same NPF who has argued for the last number of months that no one is leaving the RCMP to go to this new outfit)

In 2014 CFSEU was bragging about how their hard work had led to a reduction in gang homicide. So in 2021 should we conclude that they haven’t been working as hard?  Of course not, there are a lot of hard working, albeit frustrated officers running from pillar to post, trying to patch a case together despite all the significant hurdles. 

If one wants to seriously counter some of the gang violence and I am not sure they do, then you must look at and dissect the issues that are impairing the police at this time. 

There are three parts to every homicide, gang related or not. There is the finding and arrest of the suspect;  putting the case together to get charge approval; and, finally leading it through the Courts. 

Unfortunately, while policing has been strapping on body cams to defend against all arrests being racist, these three stages have developed significant barriers to combatting gang related violence. These hurdles have been growing for a number of years in size and scope and this sorry state of affairs has been brought about by senior police managers, the Crown and the Judicial court system. 

Almost all gang related homicides are solved on two fronts. Simply put, by uniform officers working in the patrol cars— and by informants. “Intelligence led policing” would be in a very distant third place. Any significant gang arrests over the years, have been brought about by attentive policing on the street level and by gangsters turning on themselves. 

So to significantly combat the gangs, more uniform officers are needed and they need to be fully supported. They need to be engaged in pro-active checks, confident in their grounds and support of their supervisors and managers. They need to once again gain control “of the streets”  to the point where the gangsters are fearful of being checked with a gun in the car or breaching their probation and parole curfews. This has to be accompanied by a strong physical presence.The managers like to talk about “boots on the ground” however nowhere has there been a re-structuring of the organizations to insure the uniform officer contingent is the most valued, the best staffed, and where one goes to earn those promotions. 

The need for informants. This blog has written previously about the need for “rats” so there is no need to go into it deeper at this time. But the use of informants has to be both condoned and emphasized a practise which has fallen into disrepair in this social worker age. It needs to be re-instated. Funds have to be made available for agents, rewards, and re-location. Most importantly the reporting process for this has to be heavily redacted and stream lined. The RCMP is the biggest offender in this regard and have literally through bureaucratic oversight killed (pardon the pun) the use of paid informants. 

Once the culprits are arrested, you are only part way there. To state it the most simply, Crown needs to come back to the charge approval of “beyond a reasonable doubt”and away from beyond absolute doubt which they seem to have adopted in the last number of years.

This goes hand and glove with the need to address the problems of “disclosure”. In layman’s terms, disclosure is the need for full and frank exposure of all relevant investigative material to the courts and the defence. The police and the Crown have been erring on the side of caution over the last number of years interpreting relevant to mean “all” investigative material and this in combination of digital record keeping have seen files grow in size from a couple of hundred pages to averaging over five thousand pages. It has even morphed into the warrant applications where at one time they were a few pages long to now look they were written by Tolstoy. All of it is time consuming, manpower heavy, and the vast majority of the information produced of no probative value. Cases have become so heavy in terms of disclosure that they have become mired in a state of suspension, never going forward in a timely way and running headlong into the Jordan decision, which requires timely Court proceedings. 

Finally there is a BC Court system, a court system, which has still failed to recognize that the Hells Angels are a criminal organization. 

Lets face it, B.C. is Canada’s version of California, a society highly tolerant of criminal and predatory behaviour.  The billion dollar drug industry and all the violence that comes with it is virtually ignored in this part of the country and this is simply the payback. 

Drugs are the root of the gang wars, control of the turf paramount to their money and stature. The B.C. Government continues to  turn a blind eye, whether it be drugs, the laundering of monies or the street crime on the downtown Eastside. It’s the three pillar approach the social workers and the welfare infrastructure exclaims and points to as the solution.  If any of this is to change the Judges need to be governed by the protection of the public not the welfare of the suspect. In this new age of “defunding the police” this may be the most difficult wall to climb. 

As those inside the system know, the amount of change that is needed is indeed staggering, requiring all levels of government to come together and make real court tested changes. There is a need for strong and formidable police leadership. Advancement of one’s career in policing is now attached to the ability to appease, to talk the talk of diversity and inclusion not the usurping of criminal behaviour. The police executives seem content to absorb themselves in the spin to the public, promoted by keeping the public satisfied, even if it means lying to them. 

The BC government has no problem, in this time of Covid, of directing police resources and breaching the Charter rights, to check for people going camping. A rather laughable effort to stem virus transmission, but have shown no interest in a concerted effort against the gangsters who have been recently opening fire on outside dining spots. 

The officers of IHIT and other homicide agencies are spinning their wheels, albeit making a lot of money doing it, as overtime is driving file costs in the neighbourhood of half a million dollars per file. There are 400 officers in CFSEU, 100 plus officers in IHIT, now being out gunned by teenage hoodie wearing gangsters with under nourished intelligence. It’s frustrating to them and it’s frustrating to the general public.  Prof Gordon of Simon Fraser University, never one to dodge the cameras, when asked when the gangster war will ease said, “probably when they run out of targets”. 

Unfortunately, he’s probably right. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Mika ___ Some Rights Reserved

Rolling the Dice in a Homicide

It was May 2011 when Samandeep Singh Gill, likely with a gangster strut, got involved in a “road rage”altercation and a “fender bender” quickly turned into a cold blooded killing. Gill (allegedly of course) shot the other driver Manbir Singh Kajla several times and Kajla died at the scene. For good measure Gill also shot at Kajla’s newly wed wife, Pavan, before disappearing.

Seven long years later, after IHIT had turned the file over to the Unsolved Homicide Unit in 2016, Gill was finally charged in 2018 with 2nd degree murder and attempted murder. Since the arrest and up to the time of the trial in 2021, Gill was simmering away in jail. The Court did not feel this gun toting Mr. Gill was safe to be allowed out to await his trial.  

However, in March 2021 it all went sideways for the police and the Crown when the presiding Justice of the Supreme Court ruled that the Integrated Homicide Team had engaged in a “systemic, flagrant disregard” for the law, and were “at best wilfully blind” to  this “egregious” behaviour,“. What had been exposed he stated was a long standing policy of “deliberate non-compliance” with the law. With these words Justice David Masuhara of the  Supreme Court then turned to the accused killer and told him he could go home; a free man. 

A good day for Mr. Gill and a horrendous day for the family of Kajla. A catch and release for IHIT and the Unsolved Homicide Team after many years of investigation. Furthermore, there was also the grim prospect that this ruling would ripple through to other cases —especially those which had been brought forward between 2007 and 2014.

The allegations of the Justice, applauded by defence counsel, were indeed troubling. However, as one read the blaring headlines, there was a tenor to the pronouncement which didn’t resonate with those of us that had worked in this field of death investigation. Really, a policy to break the law? Fracturing the law was possible, but how could one be so stupid as to make policy around it.The allegation seemed illogical. 

The answer on further review turns out to be much more understandable; albeit still wrong, but worthy of an explanation. 

The knee jerk furor of the media aside and ignoring the autonomic NDP political damage control that quickly ensued, what kick-started the panic was a low profile, somewhat innocuous section of the Criminal Code –Section 490. Twenty pages of fine print in Martin’s Criminal Code which deals with the subject matter of   “Detention of Things Seized”.  

For greater clarity, the portion in specific contention is section 490(2) which says that “Nothing shall be detained under the authority of paragraph 1 (b) for a period of more than three months after the day of seizure, or any longer period that ends when an application made… unless a justice, on the making of a summary application to him after three clear days…notice thereof to the person from whom the thing is seized, is satisfied…that its further detention is  warranted”.  

In laymen’s terms, when the police seize anything as evidence, usually under warrant, the police can hang on to the items for three months but if they wish to hold it longer they need to apply to the courts to do so. Sounds simple, but it is not. This is in fact a highly burdensome section. Arguably a largely administrative procedure which involves contacting all those from whom the items were seized,  notifying them individually of the future court proceedings where the police would be arguing to extend the exhibit(s) detention.  

But, imagine a case where there are 1200 seized exhibits (the Surrey 6 file as an example) , or a drug conspiracy case with hundreds of exhibits. Imagine an investigation taking a few years, where every 3 month period requires a court application and then you begin to see the problem. To continually comply with this section over forty cases (IHIT average) in one year alone, an army of additional officers would be needed on a full time basis.  Without doubt it is the law but it is equally largely unworkable. Remember that the law never caters or entertains an argument wherein the police or the Crown say something requires further manpower or resources.  It is a police resourcing problem they would rationalize, not a law problem. 

IHIT in this case, and apparently in several others, during the years 2007 to 2014  never complied with this Section. In fact, the Justice goes further and says that IHIT  had an actual  “policy” to contravene the Criminal Code. A written policy to intentionally break the law despite their having been legally counselled on many occasions not to do so.  

The explanation of this being “policy” is also a little more textured. 

To fully understand one must travel back in time to 2007; it was what was going on in 2007 that created the problem for the 2011 case, which was discovered in the trial of 2021.   

2007 was part of the golden era for homicide investigation. It was an atmosphere of smoke filled rooms, drinking, dark humour, and inappropriate jokes on a regular basis. It was the Mad Men years. The pace was often frenetic, demanding hours at the cost of family or relationships. But, it was good, a lifestyle choice rather than a career choice. For some reason, it also worked, with a  solvency rate that brushed against 78% in those early years, while only consisting of four teams of eight investigators.

It was also a time where the officers of early IHIT were experienced and were thus comfortable working on the high wire of the law. There was no principled argument against bending or stretching the law to meet some investigative need. Bending and not breaking was in fact the learned art. 

The Criminal Code was the only policy and guide. Crown prosecutors were trusted mentors. There were no homicide pamphlets, nor did anyone turn to an “operational manual” for any kind of guidance. Just a group of head scratching cops with a tendency to not believe anyone, trust no one, and often used a strong epithet to counter a learned argument, a disgruntled grunt serving as  a yes or no. 

Court was the stage, it was part of the game. Best player wins.  It was a small, compact and familiar group— there were the cops who investigated the murders, the Crown lawyers who prosecuted and the defence counsel who represented the “pieces of shit”.  A grudging but mutual respect built up over years.  

In 2007,  Sgt Al Ross headed one of the four IHIT investigational teams.  During a routine conversation with a  Justice of the Peace, it was pointed out to him that many officers were not complying with the provisions of Section 490, and they (the police)  needed to address the matter. Sgt Ross took it upon himself to try and find a solution to this problem; all while remaining fully aware of the logistical nightmare that this could represent. 

So he sought out and went to speak with Sr. Crown Counsel John Labossiere. Labossiere gave the correct legal answer, “there is no latitude for covert police operations” that the Criminal Code was clear in that regard. There was also discussion and recognition of the issue the police were facing —in trying to comply with this arduous section. 

Sgt Ross then goes to another Sr Crown, Terry Schultes (now a Supreme court Judge) who tells Sgt Ross that they can not ignore the law in this case. Again, there is no easy out., but informally again there was recognition that they “had to make it work”, just no solution as to how that could be done.

Sgt Ross, not known as one that gave in easily, then went to the RCMP legal counsel at the time, Les Rose, seeking yet another legal opinion. Mr. Rose one of the go-to individuals inside the RCMP had a reputation for being somewhat more pliable when it came to the policing efforts. In this case, Mr. Rose told Sgt Ross that he needed to comply, but he also opined that there was a need for “balanced risk management” and that he knew of no case where there had been an “exclusion of real evidence” based on a breach of Section 490.  

Sgt Ross met with the Officer in charge of IHIT, Wayne Rideout, and also Inspector Bill Fordy the latter being one who also leaned to the explanation of the need for a “balanced risk management”.  This was followed by “a memo” coming from the Officer in Charge telling officers not to seek extensions, if they felt that by requesting the extensions they would “attract attention to the non-compliance”.  They seemed to follow that old standard RCMP policy solution –ignore the problem, and in the meantime don’t tell anyone. 

In January 2008, Sgt Ross writes to Supt Wayne Rideout “warning of the circumstances” brought about by non-compliance however he does throw in that  “I anticipate the possibility of real evidence being excluded in a homicide is low”. He recommended that IHIT  try and obtain some further resources and manpower, absolutely needed he argued, if they were going to get some sort of ability to comply with the section.  

Fast forward now to 2011. 

S/Sgt Gorgichuk, who was then a Constable with the 2nd generation of IHIT investigators, was the file co-ordinator for the Gill attempted murder case. She appeared at the trial in 2021. Her testimony and explanation of Section 490 did not go well. 

In this case, search warrants were executed on the Gill residence. They seized nine cellphones because “they didn’t know which one was the accused”. They also seized a home security videotape (which was not included on the warrant), after getting access to the residence. Amongst the phones seized was a 60 second audio clip, captured apparently because of a “pocket dial” during the time of the shooting; which implicated Mr. Gill in the killing and therefore a central piece of evidence for the Crown. 

Unfortunately the Crown and their police witnesses ran into a very able and formidable criminal defence attorney Matt Nathanson. One could question Nathanson’s choice of high paying clients, but one could not question his experience and intelligence.  

Nathanson challenged the seizure of the video on the grounds that the home security camera was not on the warrant.  He also challenged the seizure of the phones on two primary grounds. The “over reach” of the warrant and the criminal “policy” of IHIT of not complying with Section 490 of the Criminal Code as testified to by S/Sgt Gorgichuk. Nathanson no doubt with his most theatrical voice pronounced that he had “never seen anything like this before”, this wanton disregard for the law.

Justice Masuhara agreed. The over reach or what the Justice calls “over-seizure”on the cellphone seizure and the fact that it was an unlawful search of the security camera system was what warranted exclusion of the evidence flowing from it. 

What pushed the Justice over the line seemingly was the “policy” which S/Sgt Gorgichuk “acknowledged her awareness” of —that  “direction” in 2007  not to comply with Section 490.  

Far be it for this outsider to question S/Sgt Gorgichuk, but it is difficult to believe that she did not comply with Section 490 in the Gill case— because of a remembrance of this “direction” that was issued in 2007. Gorgichuk was a Constable in 2011.

 The Justice wasn’t enamoured with her when describing her evidence: “I determined that S/Sgt Gorgichuk was not a credible witness and that she engaged in advocacy, though I did not find she intentionally misled the court…  As I have stated, I did not find S/Sgt Gorgichuk to be a credible or reliable witness …she refused to acknowledge errors in her testimony even when confronted with clear evidence..her testimony was nonetheless misleading, combative, and at times contradictory” 

S/Sgt Dwayne MacDonald (now the Officer in Charge of Federal Investigation Services and Organized Crime) was the Team Commander for the Gill case. The Justice speaks to his testimony and of his apparent cancelling of the “directive” in 2014 (worthy of noting that the Justices’ language went from calling it policy to a directive)when he says:  

“On XXXX 2011, S/Sgt Dwayne McDonald was a Team Commander at IHIT, responsible for the investigation of the murder of XXXX Kajla. Since 2007, the senior management at IHIT had provided direction with respect to applications for the extension of 5.2 Detention Orders. Specifically, that no extension of the 5.2 Extension Order would be sought upon the expiry after 3 months (I believe that the two XXXX references by A/Comm Dwayne McDonald in this email were a direct result of him not remembering the exact information);” In other words, he was guessing a bit. 

From a police perspective, is some of this understandable and even arguable? Maybe. 

This writer believes that non-compliance with this Section is rampant in every part of this country, in every police agency in the land. It is largely an unworkable Section of the Criminal Code that needs re-vamping, especially in times of limited resources and “defunding” of the police. 

It is obvious though that IHIT rolled the criminal trial game dice, and they lost, they busted.  In doing so have blemished the already burnished reputation of IHIT.  Only Mad Men would have taken the chance. 

For the record, this writer does not believe there was any “policy” of non-compliance. In fact the Acting Officer in charge Michelle Tansey of IHT recently said “this was not policy”.

David Eby the Attorney General for the Province of B.C. is “studying the viability of an appeal” even though the BC Prosecution Service has already stated that an appeal would “not likely” be successful.

To measure his chance at a successful appeal, Mr. Eby may want to go down the hall in Victoria and speak with his new hire—the Director of Police Services for the Province— Wayne Rideout– and ask him whether in fact he authored a  direct “policy” of non-compliance. Seems simple enough.

Or the NDP and the RCMP can just roll the dice again …and hope no one else goes free.

(Full disclosure: this writer was one of members of Integrated Homicide Investigation Team from its inception in 2003 to 2008. All the parties in this blog were not only known by me, but I worked and consulted with the cops and the lawyers mentioned in this blog on a relatively regular basis. In addition, as a team leader of one of the investigative teams would also have been privy to any policies within IHIT )

Photo Courtesy via Flickr Commons by PositiveCandie_N –Some Rights Reserved

An apology to my faithful but few readers

In the last few weeks there has been a lack of output from your faithful scribe, for two reasons.  The first is the inability to force myself to sit in front of a computer, which is  a human fraility, the failure to be disciplined. Instead, I have been enjoying the comforts of a warm summer; bbq’s, still and sultry nights, family members coming together, shorts and flip flops. But in my defence, I did feel a twinge of guilt.

The second reason is that about mid-August, just as I was being pulled back to the laptop, unannounced,  I was forced to undertake an investigation into the Canadian medical health care system; having being literally forced to my knees by sudden acute sciatica. A few weeks of intense pain has a way of taking away your ability to concentrate, and did not even allow me to sit in front of the afore mentioned computer. I am not looking for sympathy, just trying to justify my lack of written output.

My medical investigation so far by the way, has revealed that although better than the third world without a doubt, I have some serious questions on the costs of our system, and the eventual medical outcomes. I have concluded that you are your own best diagnostician, and the enormous monies being spent are feeding some segments but not others.  After two emergency room visits surrounded by crying babies, alcoholics, and drug addicts with their often ill-defined problems, and an ambulance ride where we discussed poor pay and our mutual dislike of firemen, I was left wondering where all the money that goes into health care. Is it really finding its way to where it is needed? But that is for another time and blog.

So now, still on crutches, and probably destined for a life style change which incorporates physiotherapy for the duration of it, I have been re-defined, and find myself in need of the succour of writing. When I first started this sometimes moving target blog I wondered if I would find enough issues which would inspire me to undertake and dedicate myself to a daily writing process.

Rest assured. That has not been the case. Quite the opposite actually as I, like you, are continuously being bombarded by “breaking news”.

There is the continual distraction of the bombastic, idiotic, and war mongering U.S. President, who can not put a grammatical sentence together. But that aside here are the few things that are of interest to me.

Hurricane Harvey in Houston happened a few weeks after BC was declaring the whole province a state of Emergency due to wildfires. Stunning photographs from Houston, while here, thousands of people evacuated under growing frustration with the process itself. Emergency planning as exercised in this Province, I think needs to be placed under a microscope. Hidden behind the “rescues” and the “hero” stories there is a need for an audit, a need for some non-emotional analysis.

In Ottawa, the Indigenous inquiry is proving to be a political disaster and at the very least, as predicted, will be an ineffectual exercise. But the Liberals push on, now making two departments in the Federal government to deal with indigenous affairs, rather than INAC.  Billions of dollars in expenditures seem to be on the horizon, apparently without a smidgen of opposition.

Also in Ottawa, Senator Mike Duffy, guilty of gouging the system legally and lacking any ethical and moral compass, he is now suing the RCMP and the Federal Government for $8 million. I suspect he is going to get a payout, due to an inferior RCMP investigation of which I have some personal knowledge, and an investigation which was wrapped in political interference.

Locally, Surrey and the surrounding areas seem to have a new drug war developing. So what else is new you ask?  Meanwhile, IHIT (Integrated Homicide and Investigation Team) at last count solving only 6 out of 36 murders this year.  I am hearing rumblings that the officers in the Unit itself, are now questioning the effectiveness of their own organization.

The daily Fentanyl news coverage has now dwindled from public view, the news agencies finally running out of variations on the theme of reporting the “crisis”.  A sense of acceptance seems to have taken hold in the general public.

The Mounties still have no Commissioner, still awaiting for a large committee of eight politicos led by ex-Premier Frank McKenna to render their decision. I wonder what that will all cost, and what direction will the new Commissioner take this organization.

And in a more comic and reflective vein, the CBC, could not make a decision on who to replace the venerable Peter Mansbridge. Instead, and I can just picture the boardroom meeting, they have chosen to not pick a singular person, but to pick four possible persons.  Why use one, when you can use four for the same job? And the genius of course, is that the four will represent the gender and ethnic groups that are now championed throughout the Federal government.

So there are just a few of the things that interest me and my wandering mind (and it may be the medication) …. I will keep you posted.

Photo courtesy of Enric Fradera via Flickr at Creative Commons 


The Integrated Homicide Team- cash grabs and declining solve rates


By its own admission, the Integrated Homicide Investigative Team (IHIT), the RCMP/Joint force group now is the largest homicide investigative group in Canada.

They claim coverage of “28 communities and 4 municipal agencies and have conducted over 800 homicides since their inception in 2003.” So on first blush the size of this group may seem to be what one would expect.  Are there “highly skilled analytical unit..and six investigative units” performing to police standards and meeting the expectations of the general public?

First, in terms of the size of the unit and the number of officers assigned, the size of this unit seems on further inspection to be somewhat out of sync with other agencies in Canada and in North America.

For instance, this unit is therefore bigger than Toronto with about 6 times the population, bigger than Montreal, and as big as some of the larger municipalities in the U.S. Although the 28 jurisdictions it covers seems large, one must keep in mind that IHIT is counting a lot of other smaller locations where homicide is rare and not the norm. And of course it does not respond to homicides in Vancouver the largest municipality in their area, nor do they cover Victoria or places outside the LMD like Kelowna or Kamloops.

Their claim of 800 murders during this time, means that they would have had to average 61 murders per year, when their actual average is around 40 murders per year by their own statistics.

However, it became evident that clarity in the numbers is not always possible, and the police often use broad measurement tools.

IHIT is funded by the municipal  agencies and RCMP detachments that have decided to join it, and the respective jurisdictions  pay for their contribution by  either providing manpower or monies, or a combination of both, and the amounts are determined by the homicide rates for that particular region. For instance Squamish averages 1 homicide every 10 years, so therefore pays a minimal fee.  Whereas Surrey on the other hand could have on average 20 homicides a year therefore is required to pay a much larger amount.

One of the continuous lines being delivered by the media group inside IHIT is how overwhelmed they are, too many files, not enough bodies etc. It is then echoed by the local newspapers and television, with little question or examination. So how busy are they?

Since 2003 they have been involved in 509 homicides (by the numbers provided to this writer through a Freedom of Information request – far lower than the 800 they claim in their website) This  averages out to 36 files per year. IHIT states that they have 110 personnel, of which there are 80 sworn police officers. In what seems like the constant government bureaucratic creep over their 13 year history, they have also expanded their unit to include a cold case team, investigational support unit, family/victim support unit, major case management, legal support application team, special projects, and public/media relations. They state that they have six investigative teams and the rest are part of these specialized units. Each team consists of eight officers.

So 36 files per year amongst 48 “investigative” officers works out to 0.75 files per investigative officer. Less than one file per member per year, and if you include all 80 sworn officers in the average it goes down to 0.45 files per member.

[1]Toronto Metro Police in 2016 had 69 homicides which was a big year as their normal average is somewhere between 24 and 40 but in 2008 they had 70 homicides. Almost double the caseload of IHIT, with fewer officers.

IHIT has had 44 homicides in 2016, and claim to have “cleared” 43% of them. Toronto Metro claims to have “cleared” 52%, which Toronto is not bragging about, but still almost 10% greater than IHIT.

Montreal has had a declining homicide rate for several years and had 24 homicides in 2016. The previous decade had seen an average of 34, close to the IHIT average. The Montreal police claim a solvency rate of 65% in 2016. Montreal has about 32 officers, or half the size of IHIT.

It gets even more interesting when one looks to the South where  the IHIT group is still larger than most  U.S. police departments.

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The above chart is in 2004 so is somewhat dated, so a comparison of the solvency rates would not be fair. What is interesting though is the number of officers per file, and the totals of files in general, in comparison with IHIT.

In Houston 62 officers for 272 murders or 4.38 per officer.

In Detroit, the most beleaguered at the time of these figures, 39 officers for 383 murders and an average of 9.82 per officer.

So if you think IHIT is busy try putting yourselves in these cities. [2]

In 2013, the National Clearance rate in the U.S. ,where they seem to be under manned by any measure,  was 64%.

IHIT’s solvency rate in 2013 was 55%. So despite having astronomical numbers compared to IHIT, it would seem that IHIT is always underperforming other agencies, all this despite having the largest group of investigators conducting homicides in Canada.

One must also examine the term “cleared” in the language of the police. For instance, if four people were involved in a murder, and one person is charged, it is considered “cleared” even though three parties may have walked away from it. If a suspect on a file is killed or commits suicide than the matter is also considered “cleared” even though you can not eliminate the possibility that they may have had the wrong “suspect”. Also, one must remember that there are a lot of homicides, where the suspect is obvious such as domestic homicides. They are far easier to get “cleared” than the gang related style murders. If you just measured the gang related files the clearance rate many sources say IHIT would have a solvency rate that would be in the teens.

To be fair, there is a general pattern throughout North America of declining solvency or clearance rates attributed to a number of factors. So all are under performing when judged by the past, and IHIT is no different, but it is just falling a little bit faster than everyone else.

Some explanation for their under performance may be the rules of evidence, the relationships with Crown counsel, Crown Counsel itself, and policies within the RCMP itself. Disclosure, Crown insistence on “substantial likelihood of conviction”,  the complexities of warrant applications, and the lack of informants are just a few things that are often pointed to in the problems facing IHIT. All are legitimate issues.

So there are two problems now facing IHIT; declining clearance rates for the last several decades throughout all police agencies, and an IHIT group which is underperforming almost every other agency.

See the below-noted chart received from IHIT under a Freedom of Information request.

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When it was initially formed from its inception in 2003 and then up  to 2008 was above 64% solvency except for one year; with a high of 78% in 2003 its first year and again in 2007.

Since that time it has been in the 50% range with 2016 being the lowest ever at 43%. (*In terms of full disclosure, I was a member of IHIT for the 1st five years of its existence). It should also be pointed out that IHIT during that first five years consisted of only 4 teams of investigators; did not have a cold case team, did not have an affiant team, nor a family liaison unit. Shortly after those first five years as the solvency rate began to decline, and somewhat incongruously as this was happening, more officers were being added to the unit.

After the first five years IHIT went from 32 officers to 80 officers. Over a 100% increase in manpower and a decline of 20% in solvency in those ensuing years. During this time, the IHIT group has added a staggering 203 “unsolved homicides” to an already large pile.

A third problem plaguing IHIT is that despite falling solvency, and fewer murders than other locations throughout the country, IHIT officers are working a staggering amount of overtime and making a staggering amount of money.

As per the above chart received once again, through Freedom of Information request, you will see that the overtime numbers are divided between the RCMP officers and the City departments who work in combination with the RCMP. So you need to add the numbers together to get the complete picture.

When you examine a few of the years in 2007/2008 the average overtime per member works out to $52,257.56. In 2011/2012 it was $54,731.00 and in the largest year 2013/2014 it was $76,063.97 per officer.

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The IHIT teams are made up of Constables, Corporals and 1 Sargent per team. The lowest salary of this group would be a Constable of three years who makes $82,108.00 per year. So if he is working at IHIT in 2014 his or her salary with overtime would be $158,171.00. Corporals who earn $89,910 would minimally make $165,973.00 and Sargeants with a base salary of $97,999 would be around $174,000. To give this some terms of reference the average “family” income in 2016 was $67,090, so a Constable with three years service, no specific academic degrees or technical certificates was making  247% more than the average Vancouver household.

If this were occurring in normal business practices and  managers saw this level of overtime, it would make financial sense to hire more personnel and look at shifting as a starter to stem such large expenditures. However at IHIT there is no weekend shifting. As one source told me, no one would work at IHIT if the overtime was reduced. Weekends is where the majority of the overtime is made, so in having a shift on the weekend they would be cutting off the flow of overtime monies.

Many reasonably argue that overtime seems to have now become the driving motivational force at IHIT.

IHIT, according to many sources, has become a place you go for two to three years to make a lot of money, and add an impressive title to your resume. Continuity and expertise is no longer treated as a valuable commodity. I’m told that there is often no need for this level of overtime, but it is driven by the unaccountable monies available which are made available and not the necessary investigative requirement. I observed that on many occasions while with IHIT personally, with certain officers enamoured with the financial gains that could be made. It has now become the norm.

Even so, a lot of officers don’t want this, as they are not interested in a lot of overtime and having to be away from family for long periods of time. So there is an additional problem growing  in IHIT with attracting people to the unit, even for promotion. I am told that some teams are down 40% of their manpower and many are abandoning the unit for greener pastures which usually means other Federal sections where overtime is also plentiful without the demands of being on-call and overnight shifting.

Of course, none of these issues are being talked about and why would they. They are not going to speak about the fact that  if someone is murdered there is a less than 50% chance it will be solved. If it is a gang or drug-related murder the chance is probably less than 20%.

I have been told by one source that the head of IHIT currently, Supt. Donna Richardson has even expressed growing concerns about being sued by family members of victims due to the growing inability to solve crimes.

In terms of correcting or trying to address the solvency issues the issues are more complex. There are the general broad based factors which have been occurring for the last few decades amongst the limited academic research in the field.

Often cited:

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a) The integrated vs de-centralized unit, where the integrated teams have lost touch with the localized problems, are unable to develop witnesses and informants. It is believed that this is a fundamental problem with IHIT who have been recruiting younger and younger officers from other areas, with no local knowledge to this central unit.

b) In the 1990’s the flavour of the day in policing became Crime Prevention vs. Crime Solving. Monies poured into community policing stations etc. to the detriment of developing and solving criminal investigations.

c) The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a generational development of nobody wanting to “rat” on anybody in the criminal world. It not only became the edict of the criminal gangs, but the general public became less inclined to get involved.

d) Greater difficulty in prosecuting these cases. The most pronounced of that in this Province is the rules surrounding “disclosure” and the Crown and court guidelines of this issue. (I will talk about disclosure in a later blog, as it has become an albatross that is hindering every investigation)

All of these issues are pertinent to IHIT, but there is growing evidence of the lack of experience, due to younger and younger persons going to the unit, ill-equipped supervisors, and the lack of local knowledge is the biggest factor that needs immediate addressing. It is known that officers with only  three years service, or a 5 year drug officer with no homicide experience all have been accepted into this unit.

To compensate for this inexperience they often have to engage in a type of check list investigation. Someone lists out all the items that could be done, and they go through the motions trying to check it off the list for each and every homicide. It is very time consuming and often fruitless without some experienced oversight to direct what is important and whats not, where the emphasis should be placed based on the circumstances. It is also more expensive.

Experience was so valued  in the Vancouver City Police it used to be that you needed 15 years experience before you would ever be able to apply to the homicide section. (that too has changed because of demographics and loss of experience). In those days I should add, there were two person units, not eight, and there solvency rates were always in the 70% range.The officers were not better then, but they had more experience in a job which demanded experience, and often maintained informants and other sources in the local criminal element, something which is an absolute necessity when dealing with gang-related homicides.

So how is government to deal with this growing problem,  a problem they are either unaware of, or not wanting to talk about it. The current management of the RCMP are fully aware of the situation, as this has not developed overnight. This has been growing for the last several years, and there does not seem to be any internal desire to address these issues in the sensitive world of homicide investigation. Some of the upper managers came up through the IHIT system and were full participants in the overtime gains.  So instead of talking about what is developing as an embarrassment, they seem to be content with only assuaging the public as to their ongoing attentiveness to these investigations.

So as the gang shootings continue they seem satisfied to tell us that it was a “targeted hit” and we have nothing to worry about. The public does need to be concerned and the taxpayer needs to begin demanding some explanations. A full managerial and financial audit is needed as a starter. Time to pull back the covers.

( Recent article in the NY Times talks about the ongoing homicide solvency problem in the Bronx. They have just added 75 “White Shield” Detectives to supplement the three detectives that were handling over 400 cases last year. White Shield Detectives have to go through an 18 month training period working with senior detectives before earning their detective badges

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/nyregion/new-york-police-bronx.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad  )

( *By way of further update, in a Justice Institute of BC In Service Newsletter state that in 2015 police solved in Canada 451 out of 604 homicides, for a solvency rate of 75%. In 2015 IHIT’s solvency rate was 59%)


[1] http://www.torontosun.com/2016/12/27/sharp-rise-in-murders-in-toronto-in-2016

[2] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/chicago-762-homicides-2016-nyc-la-article-1.2931020

[3] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11647-eng.htm#a1