Perception of justice 'crucial' in Sask. policing oversight reforms, expert says
SASKATOON -- A policing expert says changes to police oversight in Saskatchewan are important - but there are still issues with a lack of voices from the community.
The province on Wednesday announced what it says are enhancements to the role of those who investigate deaths in police custody, allegations of excessive police force or sexual and workplace harassment within police forces.
The investigators are now appointed by the Public Complaints Commission (PCC).
Scott Thompson, who studies policing and surveillance technologies at the University of Saskatchewan, says the background of those investigators is crucial.
“There’s going to be a huge difference between the focus of an ex-officer and a human rights lawyer.”
Attorney General Don Morgan told CTV News the changes are a step in what may become a multi-step process.
“More and more of the provinces are moving towards a full-on Serious Incident Response Team model. We felt in a province the size of ours we may not want to do that now, that we may want to move to that incrementally or maybe not at all if we're able to do it through this model.”
The PCC board is made entirely of civilian members, he said. If a serious incident happens, the police service must go to the PCC and ask that an overseer be assigned. The PCC would appoint one of its own staff members or someone external to conduct the investigation.
The investigator cannot be a serving officer, though Morgan said there would be a reasonable chance it would be a former officer or someone with investigative experience.
The investigator would be able to second people from other municipal police forces or the RCMP.
“You might need somebody that’s got forensic experience or accident reconstruction that would be a serving member of another force. But it must be somebody that would come from another force but that would be under the control and direction of somebody from the PCC,” Morgan said.
The investigator must ensure frequent news releases are produced and that an “exhaustive” report is written and released to the maximum extent possible with redactions due to underage people or ongoing investigations, for example, Morgan said.
However, Thompson sees the investigations as still being done by a police service. In other places a civilian board drives the investigation and can look for systemic, long-lasting issues, he said.
Corrections, for example, has an independent investigator that does "excellent work," he said.
“The perception of justice is what’s crucial here. People are feeling unsafe. People are feeling they don't have a voice, people are feeling that it’s not transparent and that feeling is what makes us have faith and trust in the system.
“Do people feel it will be transparent and feel it'll be just if it’s just oversight, or does the community need to have a completely separate and completely independent civilian board to feel that way?”