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Report finds B.C. police watchdog facing human resources issues

Richard Rosenthal, Chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, is photographed at his office in Surrey, British Columbia, Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Mr. Rosenthal said Monday that the organization is facing problems inevitable for a new operation.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The agency that investigates police incidents leading to major harm or death is facing "serious" human resource issues, including high levels of attrition, that have to be fixed quickly, says the chair of a legislature committee.

The report of the Special Committee to Review the Independent Investigations Office, released Monday, adds weight to media reports of turmoil in the police watchdog. The organization launched in 2012 as a first of its kind in British Columbia. It uses a mix of civilian investigators and former police officers to investigate police conduct.

The committee says the provincial Justice Ministry should continue with its review of human-resource problems such as attrition and low morale at the Independent Investigations Office and report back. The MLAs did not offer strategies on dealing with the issues.

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"Members concluded that government needed to ensure that urgent and decisive action is taken to correct outstanding issues in order to ensure the effective operations of the IIO," says the report, calling for a report within a year on actions to deal with the concerns.

Committee MLAs heard from various witnesses, including former watchdog staff, and Richard Rosenthal, the chief civilian director of the organization.

"With the type of work the IIO does, you have to make sure you have a work force that works as a team and can work together," committee chair Mike Morris, a Liberal MLA, said in an interview.

"We have to make sure the employees are being treated right."

Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP co-chair of the committee, said it has been hard for the committee to determine how much of the problem stems from the challenges of starting a new organization versus leadership problems. Without providing details, the report raises concerns about managing human resources within the organization.

"It's very concerning for sure," he said in an interview. "Any time an organization is not cohesive, if they are pointing the fingers at each other for problems and not uniting to say 'How do we solve the problem?' you get delays and possibly you could have sloppy work.

"For an organization as vital as this, dealing with matters of high public interest, you don't want these questions to be raised at all."

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Mr. Chandra Herbert said the organization has been effectively handling its files. "But clearly there are some major cultural and human-resource issues inside which do need to be addressed now."

The report, quoting Mr. Rosenthal, says attrition has been "fairly significant" with 15 employees leaving in the office's first two years. Ten were former police officers and five were civilians.

Mr. Morris said the issues are not serious enough to warrant shutting down the office, but fixes must be implemented as they come up. "By the time they finish their review, I am hoping they will also have a lot of the remedies in motion," he said.

Still, the Liberal MLA said the overall structure of the watchdog office is sound. "The human resource issue is a burr in the saddle," he said. "The IIO is doing its job and doing it very well."

Mr. Rosenthal said Monday that the organization is facing problems inevitable for a new operation. "It would be a real surprise if it was acting like a mature organization," he said, calling the office an "infant organization."

Mr. Rosenthal said he would not place blame on individuals or apportion blame for the troubles in the office under his leadership. Of attrition, he said it has been a mixed blessing. "We've had attrition that has been good and we have had attrition that has been challenging," he said, suggesting it has allowed new opportunities for bringing in staff and for unhappy staff to go elsewhere.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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