British Columbia

IIO director Richard Rosenthal steps down 4 months early

The director of B.C.'s civilian police watchdog is stepping down ahead of schedule to pursue a career in academia. Richard Rosenthal was first appointed as the civilian director of the Independent Investigation Office when it was founded in 2012.

Outgoing director retiring to pursue PhD in criminology

IIO chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal will be ending his term four months early to pursue a PhD in criminology.

The director of B.C.'s civilian police watchdog is stepping down this week — ahead of schedule — to pursue a career in academia.

Richard Rosenthal was first appointed as the civilian director of the Independent Investigation Office (IIO) when it was founded in 2012.

Rosenthal had previously said he would be retiring after his term ended in January, but last week he announced he would be stepping down four months ahead of schedule to pursue a PhD in criminology.

"In order to do that on a full-time basis, I simply needed to finish up my term and move on to the next stage of my career," Rosenthal said in an interview with CBC News.

The IIO is a civilian-run body that investigates instances where people are killed or seriously injured by police officers. The organization was founded in response to the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski after police used a Taser on him at Vancouver International Airport.

The IIO was founded in the aftermath of the death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007. (Paul Pritchard/Canadian Press)

All cases investigated

As his term comes to an end, Rosenthal says the IIO needs more discretion to choose what cases it takes on.

Currently, the IIO's mandate is to investigate all cases of death or serious injury caused by a police officer, regardless of severity or whether any wrongdoing has been alleged.

Rosenthal says this can cause a backlog in the system and tie up resources on cases that may not require them.

"There's no ability to triage investigations or cases," he said. "There's no ability to manage our case load."

As an example, Rosenthal said the IIO could be investigating an officer-involved shooting one day, and the next day be required to shift gears to investigate a case where someone has broken their ankle running away from the police.

The IIO is mandated to investigate all incidents of police-caused death or serious injury. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette/Canadian Press)

Director supports long-term "civilianization"

Rosenthal also called for greater discretion in the hiring of former police officers. The IIO is currently restricted from hiring anyone who has been with the police in B.C. within the last five years.

While Rosenthal said he supports the long-term "civilianization" of the IIO, he said former officers are sometimes the only way to provide the training needed by civilians at a relatively new organization.

The hiring of ex-cops to a civilian organization has been a source of controversy in the past.

In 2015, the IIO was investigated for allegations of bullying and harassment, supposedly due to the culture clash resulting from the hiring of former officers. 17 investigators and five non-investigative staff left the IIO within its first 28 months of operation.

Rosenthal said this was due largely to disagreement on the core vision of what a civilian oversight agency like the IIO is supposed to do.

"At the beginning, we were having challenges," Rosenthal said. "We did not have alignment in vision and values of the organization. And unfortunately when you're the leader of the organization, you take heat from people who don't share that vision and who need to leave."

"[But] the good news is that now we are in a place where we have a strong executive that understands the importance of independence."

Rifts between IIO and police

Since it began operating in 2012, the IIO has operated on a memorandum of understanding drafted in consultation with police chiefs from around the province.

Rosenthal said the document has been excellent in allowing the IIO to work collaboratively with police forces, but he said some areas of conflict have cropped up over the years. He said the government needs to create official regulations to govern police forces' interactions with the IIO.

One specific example Rosenthal cited is that officers are not writing timely, official accounts when they shoot and kill someone.

"That's not happening, on a systemic basis," he said. "It's a huge problem as far as ensuring the integrity of investigations."

Rosenthal said the IIO also wants to restrict officers from being able to view video of incidents before being interviewed in an IIO investigation.

"We need the government to step up and create regulations in order to ensure that we're able to do our job in an effective manner."

With files from Jake Costello, Tanya Fletcher and CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.