There can be no doubt, the public has an almost insatiable appetite for stories related to cops going bad. That appetite is fed by Crime reporters who pursue these cases with extraordinary vigour and enthusiasm.
My recent blog post “Selley & Overwater – Bad Cops or Bad Policy” literally “blew up” my blog stats.
History tells us that Police Officers can be counted on to continue to feed the hunger.
Law Enforcement Officers, like everyone else, are just people. People who make mistakes, people who make bad choices, people who occasionally find themselves on the wrong side of the law. It’s the prosecution of these officers that has spurned the greatest interest. The interest seems to center on the notion that Canadian juries may be disinclined to convict Police Officers who are charged with criminal offenses that arise from the performance of their duties?
The question I’ve been hearing is, “Are jury pool members selected from a population residing in a crime ridden City, like Winnipeg, more inclined to give Police Officers a break?” The answer may never be known.
Unlike American justice, Canadian jurors don’t write books or make movie deals. Such disclosure is forbidden under Canadian Law. The fact that Selley & Overwater were acquitted of all charges adds fuel to the speculation. It also leads to legitimate questions regarding the process of investigating and laying charges against Police Officers.
The success of any prosecution is often based on the quality of the Police investigation. The WPS has often been criticized for investigating the alleged criminal conduct of their own members. Perceptions of bias and questions regarding the integrity of the investigations have always permeated these cases.
The reality is, the quality of an investigation is only as good as the quality of the investigative team. In the case of an internal investigation the decision-making process is integral. The decision to lay charges must be based on a keen understanding of criminal law and practical knowledge acquired from experience in criminal prosecutions.
As the Sergeant in charge of the District 6 Crime Office, Organized Crime and Homicide Units, I made daily decisions regarding the laying of criminal charges, each decision built on the foundation of knowledge gained from involvement in hundreds of criminal cases and prosecutions. These decisions require experience, confidence and a certain degree of courage. The decision to clear a case with no charges can be extremely difficult and controversial. The decision maker may be criticized, scrutinized and compelled to defend the decision.
Therein lies part of the problem.
People who lack courage often take the path of least resistance and default to a “charge mentality” as a way of avoiding the intense scrutiny that can come with these decisions.
The Professional Standards Unit has not been immune to this phenomena. I recall many cases where charges were laid against Police Officers contrary to basic common sense principles. All that was required was for someone in the decision-making process to have the courage to make the tough call. Unfortunately, these decisions can also often be influenced by lack of experience, concerns regarding public perception, fear of negative publicity and politics. It’s been my experience that the idea of “the public interest” and “a reasonable likelihood of conviction” can often become skewed when a Police Officer is the subject of a criminal allegation.
Lest we forget, unlike most people who are charged with criminal offenses, Police Officers are frequent targets of false or vindictive allegations made by offenders attempting to mitigate their own criminal culpability.
Habitual offenders like Michael Paul Mikolajczyk who made false assault allegations against me and two other officers in 1990. The charges were subsequently stayed after Judge Howard Collerman provided a ruling that suggested Mikolajczyk’s claims of police brutality were fabricated. Habitual offenders like Henry Lavallee who recently accused Constable Ryan Law of assault. Court room spectators were shocked by Lavallees aggressive gangster style demeanour on the witness stand. His exaggerated allegations of Police brutality and assault poked full of holes by skilled cross-examination. Habitual offenders like drug dealer, car thief Kristofer Fournier who was arrested on an outstanding warrant immediately after providing testimony against Constables Selley & Overwater.
When it comes down to assessing credibility, can you blame a jury for rejecting the evidence of “shit rats” like these.
I personally believe Police Officers should be held to a higher standard of conduct than every day citizens. I also believe, as keepers of the law, Police Officers should receive greater punishment when they’re convicted of a crime. I don’t believe relaxed standards should be applied when deciding to lay criminal charges against them.
Rest easy, Police Officers in Winnipeg haven’t exactly been getting away with murder. (Jerry Stolar and Barry Neilson) In fact, over the years, a few “bad apples” have been convicted of criminal offences. There can be no doubt Police Officers in Winnipeg will continue to make sensational headlines with stories related to allegations of criminal conduct. Some charges may be justified, some may be complete fabrications. Some charges may result in convictions, some may be stayed or result in acquittals. The truth is, in a workforce of over 1,300 members, only a minute percentage of officers will ever find themselves on the wrong end of a criminal prosecution.
The rest, they’re just a bunch of “good apples” doing exactly what we expect them to do, “taking down names and kicking a little criminal ass!”
Under the Dome Blog – Bruce Owen & Larry Kusch