Three former VPD officers offer personal apologies


VANCOUVER - Three former senior Vancouver police officers concluded their testimony today at the Missing Women inquiry by offering their personal apologies to the families of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton for not solving the case sooner.

And two former VPD deputy chiefs testified today that they never saw a May 1999 memo from former Detective-Inspector Kim Rossmo that said the missing women were likely victims of a serial killer.

"I want to apologize from myself to the families for not being able to resolve this horrible issue before more women were murdered," said former homicide section sergeant Geramy Powell, whose last name was Field back in 1998 when she began working on the case.

She became choked up before adding: "I feel very, very sorry for not being able to act stronger, sooner."

Powell also told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal that there needs to be more treatment available for drug addiction and the mental health problems in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"There doesn't seem to be any long-term treatment facilities available when they're needed," she testified.

"The federal, provincial and city governments need to get that going," Powell added.

"We need to get all levels of government working together," added Powell's former boss, former major crime section inspector Fred Biddlecombe.

He said there needs to be better services for people in the Downtown Eastside at night, when they are needed.

"Like many others, I too wish that this investigation had come to a successful conclusion much sooner than it did," Biddlecombe said.

"Obviously I apologize to all the families for not ceasing this activity sooner as far as Mr. Pickton is concerned," former VPD major crime inspector Dan Dureau said.

He suggested the Vancouver police needs to work more closely with the DTES community to eliminate the traditional distrust residents have of police.

He also echoed Powell's recommendation of tackling the root problems of drug addiction, mental health and poor housing conditions.

"These have to be solved first," Dureau said.

Powell testified earlier that she requested more resources for the investigation but her requests seemed to fall on deaf ears because no further manpower was initially provided.

The three officers were testifying as part of a panel at the inquiry, which is probing why Pickton wasn't caught until 2002.

The inquiry has heard that Powell supervised the initial missing women investigation by Det.-Const. Lori Shenher, who began receiving tips in 1998 about Pickton being responsible for the dozens of women who had gone missing - mainly drug-addicted sex workers who worked the streets in Canada's most poverty-stricken neighbourhood.

The inquiry also heard from a panel of two retired Vancouver police deputy chiefs - John Unger and Brian McGuinness.

Both testified they never saw a statistical analysis report in May 1999 done by Rossmo, who had a PhD in criminology and headed the VPD geographic profiling section, which specialized in identifying serial crime.

Rossmo's report concluded the most likely explanation for the growing number of missing women was "a single murderer or partner murderers."

Both Unger and McGuinness said Rossmo's report was not discussed at meetings of the chief and deputy chiefs.

"The concern was what was happening to these women and we just didn't know that," McGuinness recalled.

"We had all these missing women and we didn't know why," he recalled.

"I think we did recognize there was a serial killer, but not at this point in time," Unger said, speaking of the period in early 1999, when Vancouver police believed women had stopped disappearing.

""What changed?" Inquiry lawyer Art Vertlieb asked.

"We had more information relative to the women reported missing and that helped us form the opinion that we did have a serial killer," Unger said.

By the time the VPD realized that a serial killer was actively preying on women, he said, the force first former a review team, which began compiling a list of potential suspects.

He recalled that Gord Spencer, the inspector who took over the major crime section after Biddlecombe retired in 2000, decided the VPD needed to form a joint forces operation with the RCMP.

"I know we had a huge number of suspects but we didn't have the wherewithal to go after all those suspects," Unger said.

"We needed some assistance to expand our geographical area," he said.

Unger said he contacted Gary Bass, the commanding officer of the RCMP, who is expected to testify later at the inquiry.

The joint-forces investigation didn't get going until early 2001 and spent much of its time reviewing suspects and transferring information to a new computer system.

Unger also took issue with a suggestion by Vertlieb that the deputy chief once said "They're just a bunch of hookers" when discussing the missing women.

"It's distressing because it's a complete fabrication," Unger said.

He was told Shenher recalled Unger once used the term "f---ing whores" during a meeting.

"I never said that," Unger said.

He said he used to use the term "working girls" until 1994, when he was told the proper terminology was "STWs - sex trade workers."

Unger, 66, retired in 2003 after serving almost 32 years in the force.

He said he had an excellent working relationship with the RCMP.

He said he worked on integrated Vancouver police-RCMP investigations.

McGuinness, who had been a VPD deputy chief in 1994, retired in 2004.

Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard, in his report on the failures of the police investigations, suggested VPD management failed to take ownership of the missing women investigation, were initially in denial about a serial killer and didn't devote sufficient resources soon enough.

Unger said he would have liked Pickton to have been caught sooner but felt Vancouver police acted appropriately.

Unger and McGuinness are expected to continue their testimony Friday.




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016