Discussions on police investigating police 'very much alive': Saskatoon police chief
'It's to do with trust in police and we're the beneficiaries of solid policy around that'
The chief of the Saskatoon Police Service says there are active discussions right now about how the province handles the investigation of police-involved deaths or serious injuries.
Troy Cooper made the remark at a press conference Wednesday where he addressed the findings of a recent coroner's inquest into the death of Joshua Megeney, a 28-year-old who died after a standoff with Saskatoon police in 2016. Megeney's death was investigated by Saskatoon police's own major crimes unit.
Cooper said he would join the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police in considering "any other form of oversight" as long as the police force had a hand in crafting that new approach.
"We certainly would like to have some opportunity to be consulted about it because at the end of the day it's to do with trust in police and we're the beneficiaries of solid policy around that," Cooper said.
"I think in the last year specifically it's has been a discussion at government level and then within policing. This is a discussion that's very much alive and something that we're talking about now."
The major crimes unit's investigation of Megeney's death — as opposed to a separate police agency being tapped to investigate — came under attack last Friday at the conclusion of the inquest into the man's death.
"The practice of police services investigating shootings or deaths involving their own members is not a not a process that can maintain public confidence," said Scott Spencer, the lawyer who represented Megeney's family during the inquest.
"After this week, I believe that nothing short of an independent civilian body reviewing these types of incidents can maintain the public confidence."
You need an independent body doing the investigation, not just reading the report.- Scott Spencer, lawyer
Spencer was just the latest person to recently make that remark.
Two weeks before the inquest, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) made the same criticism, joined by the families of two men whose deaths after police pursuits were the subject of previous inquests. Those families had also expressed concern about police investigating their own members.
"We see that [investigation practice] as suspect. There are many many good police officers, but at the same time, when police investigate police, there's always that [perception]," said FSIN Vice-Chief Edward Dutch Lerat.
Cooper said it ultimately falls on the provincial government to make any changes.
Asked to comment Wednesday, the Ministry of Justice said the province has an oversight body in the form of the Public Complaints Commission, a five-person board that investigates complaints about municipal police forces. That board must include a person of First Nation and a person of Métis ancestry.
The ministry added that when there's an injury or death through the actions of the police, the police service is required to ask the ministry to appoint an investigation observer (typically an ex-officer) to provide a fresh pair of eyes on the investigation.
But even that practice came under criticism by Spencer.
"You need an independent body doing the investigation, not just reading the report," Spencer said.
The ministry said it would continue to monitor civilian oversight committees operating in other provinces.
"At this time there are no plans to change the way Saskatchewan currently handles police oversight," a spokesperson said.
The six-person inquest who served on the Megeney inquest made four recommendations, all directed to the Saskatoon Police Service:
"If firearms are believed to be on premises during a police call, that a protocol be in place for the on-scene lead officers to be able to request and have immediate access, without reservation, to additional resources that he/she deems appropriate."
"We recommend TSU patrol shift officers have readily available in patrol cars a wide range of surveillance and communication tools. These will assist with intelligence gathering and between communication between officers and suspects."
"That standard, formalized training and education with respect to negotiation/communication skills be implemented for all TSU members during initial training and continuing education. This would not be in lieu of Crisis Negotiation Team expertise…but considered a positive adjunct to both officers' experience and natural communities [skills]."
"Policies and procedures around breach and retreat should be reviewed in regards to risking escalating a situation without adequate intelligence."
Cooper said all the recommendations "were well thought out" and that they're "achievable."
He said that more surveillance equipment has been purchased since 2016 and that the police force will be completing an inventory "just to make sure that recommendation is fully explored."
Regarding the review of the breach and retreat method, Cooper said, "Our intention there is to ensure that this technique and others used by our tactical teams are standard within the industry nationally and that their use is properly assessed."
Cooper recognized the week-long inquest was tough on the Megeney family, which sat in the front row throughout the process.
"I want to acknowledge that although this may have brought some closure to the Megeney family. I can imagine how how painful and difficult it must have been for them to go through."