The Toronto Star recently published an article entitled “Are these cops above the law?”
This article looked at the manner with which the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has dealt with investigating and prosecuting police officers that have caused serious harm or death to members of the public. In one instance, a 59-year old intellectually challenged man holding a pocketknife was shot and killed by a fully armed police officer wearing a bulletproof vest. In another, two teenagers suffered extensive injuries after being run over by a police cruiser, while they were sitting in the grass talking. Finally, a grandmother, out for a morning stroll, was killed when a police officer made an illegal right turn and ran her down.
Officers are subject to the SIU, which is meant to carry out investigations of serious cases involving harm done by officers. In its 20 year existence, the SIU has undertaken more than 3,400 investigations on officers and of those investigations, only 95 have led to criminal charges. From these charges there have been 16 convictions, only 3 resulting in jail time. The purpose of the SIU, as stated on their website, is, “to maintain confidence in Ontario's police services by assuring the public that police actions resulting in serious injury or death are subjected to rigorous, independent investigations”.
This objective does not appear to be succeeding. For example, in the cases mentioned above - the intellectually challenged man that was killed, the teenagers that were run over, and the grandmother that was run down – the officers were completely cleared and received no criminal sanctions whatsoever. For the death of the grandmother specifically, the only sanction the officer did receive was the loss of one week’s worth of salary.
So why aren’t these officers being held accountable criminally for their crimes? The SIU is run primarily by fellow police officers. 47 of the 54 investigators on the SIU are former police officers. There is inherent bias and lack of transparency in the process, which sees police officers as responsible for holding other officers accountable. Furthermore, 7 million tax dollars each year are put into running the SIU. This means that in 20 years, a total of 140 million dollars has gotten us 16 convictions. The question then is, what is really the point of the SIU? Is it honestly trying to hold officers accountable, or are the investigations simply done to give the impression that something is being done?
The Star article quoted Durham Inspector Bruce Townley who emphasized that while the public may see some police officers as "cowboys", they are only human – like anyone else. Like everyone else, these officers need to be held criminally responsible for the serious harms and deaths they cause.
Do you think police officers that cause harm when on-duty should be subject to the same punishments as an average citizen causing the same level of harm would be?
Should we be using the SIU to investigate these officers or should we attempt other means? Do you think the SIU’s stated goals are actually the goals it wants to fulfill?
Posted by Melissa Crowley (Windsor Law I)