Police policing police: Saskatchewan explores civilian oversight options

The Saskatchewan government is looking at how other provinces handle police oversight after years of being criticized for police policing police, but there’s no timeline for potential changes.

It’s one of the only provinces without an independent civilian-led agency that investigates police actions that result in injury or death. Some groups also look at allegations of sexual assault or other criminal behaviour and complaints.

Such agencies exist in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Quebec. Earlier this year, Newfoundland and Labrador announced it would establish its own stand-alone team.

Without one in Saskatchewan, it’s common for another local police agency to review serious events such as shootings.

The Regina Police Service is investigating a shooting on Tuesday in which an RCMP corporal and one suspect were injured near Turtleford, about 90 kilometres east of Lloydminster. A spokeswoman said Wednesday the suspect was still in hospital and no charges had been laid.

Moose Jaw Police stepped in after a shooting in August involving a Mountie left one man dead on the Fishing Lake First Nation, about 230 kilometres east of Saskatoon.

In some cases, other police agencies are not brought in. Regina police are investigating the officer-involved shooting death of Geoffrey Morris that happened in the city earlier this year.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice says police oversight looks different everywhere and, in cases where death or serious injury occur, the province assigns an independent observer to review the investigation and report to the ministry.

“I’m not saying that one police force investigating another police force will always be biased, but maybe biased … is the question or the perception,” said Felix Cacchione, director of the Serious Incident Response Team in Nova Scotia, which has also handled cases from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

The retired judge said he’s spoken to someone from Saskatchewan about the issue.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the province has independent police oversight bodies such as municipal police boards and the Public Complaints Commission, which look into complaints against officers and possible criminal conduct.

“The ministry also understands the need for further transparency, accountability and ensuring public confidence in police services, specifically in areas that concern serious incidents involving police,” the statement reads.

“The ministry is reviewing civilian oversight bodies in other Canadian jurisdictions, and what improvements can be made.”

Cacchione believes civilian oversight is important because it dispels common perceptions that police protect their own, which cause the public to question their investigations.

Kevin Walby, a criminal justice professor at the University of Winnipeg, said there can also be issues with bringing in outside investigative bodies.

There can be an occupational culture of secrecy and nepotism within policing referred to as the “blue wall,” he said in an email.

If personnel on independent investigative bodies have former police ties, there’s no guarantee that wall doesn’t exist, he suggested.

“Ideally we as a society would move toward more arms-length oversight involving personnel with no prior police connections who have a critical and investigative mindset,” he said.

(Canadian Press)

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