Coleman needs to protect public, not cops

SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Rejection of audit part of a pattern

Michael Smyth
The Province

Sunday, June 05, 2005

As B.C.'s top law-enforcement official, Rich Coleman has shown he's no Serpico.

You might remember that old movie about the all-too-honest cop who fought corruption among his own brother officers, even though it turned him into the most hated guy on the force.

No fear of that happening to Coleman. Whenever B.C.'s "top cop" is confronted with evidence of police misconduct, his first reaction is always the same: Protect the old boys' club.

It was the usual story last week when B.C.'s police complaints watchdog issued a scathing report on the conduct of the Vancouver Police Department and called for an audit of its activities. Coleman, a former police officer himself, was quick to shoot the idea down.

"The public can have confidence in this police force -- it's a very good police force," he said, arguing that an audit isn't necessary.

When is Coleman going to realize he doesn't wear a badge or carry a sidearm anymore? He's supposed to protect the broad public interest now, not the interests of the cops on the duty roster.

Unfortunately, this is all becoming a familiar pattern for Coleman. Consider:

- The death of Frank Paul. The 47-year-old aboriginal man died of exposure after the Vancouver Police Department dumped him drunk and soaking wet in an alley.

Coleman resisted repeated and widespread calls for an inquiry into Paul's death, saying it would result in "public acrimony" toward the police.

- Six cops convicted of assault. After six VPD officers pleaded guilty to assault in 2003, Coleman rejected all calls for an inquiry.

"It would be an exercise in name-calling," he said.

- The missing-women file. Coleman wasn't moved when relatives of dozens of women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside accused police of bungling the case.

"I don't think there's any necessity at this point for a public inquiry," he said.

- When a VPD officer fell under suspicion of lying in court and stealing evidence in 2003, Coleman rejected calls for an inquiry.

"I'm pretty confident in the Vancouver police force," he said.

There are several other examples of Coleman's move-along, nothing-to-see-here attitude toward alleged police misconduct.

Something has to change.

For one thing, it's absolutely ridiculous that the province's "independent" police complaints commissioner falls under Coleman's jurisdiction.

It's also insulting to the public that the complaints commissioner does not have the power to order full public inquiries into police misconduct himself.

Given his track record, it's difficult to see Coleman doing anything to clean up this mess.

Maybe it's time for the newly elected Wally Oppal, a former judge and advocate for police-complaints reform, to become the badly needed Serpico in Gordon Campbell's cabinet.

Listen to Nightline B.C. with Michael Smyth every weeknight at 7 p.m. on CKNW, AM 980

Voice mail: 604-605-2004


 The Vancouver Province 2005



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