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Police have duty to probe own actions in missing women’s case

Kim Rossmo
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, August 31, 2002

When I was sworn in as a constable with the Vancouver Police Department more than 22 years ago, we took an oath to serve "without favour, affection, malice, or ill will."

I understood this to mean everyone was to be treated equally, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status or occupation. The powerless had as much right to our services and protection as the powerful.

Indeed, as I saw in my first years walking a beat in Skid Road, they had greater need. There are only a small number of agencies available to the unlucky and unfortunate in society, and one of them is the police.

Right now, the second largest criminal investigation in Canadian history is under way, its epicentre the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.

Doubtless this will be well done. Canadian police agencies, the RCMP and Vancouver police department included, are among the finest in the world.

But mistakes happen and individuals err. That we failed the "missing" women from the Downtown Eastside is beyond doubt. It is therefore distressing to not yet see a definitive plan for a review of what went wrong.

If a catastrophe with a similar death toll had occurred in a hospital, on a ferry or in a fire, authorities would automatically investigate and review in order to implement necessary changes. In Ontario, the Paul Bernardo case -- with two middle-class victims -- resulted in the Justice Campbell report, while the Yorkshire Ripper murders in Britain spurred a review by Lord Byford. Both led to significant improvements in the investigation of serial and sexual crime.

No less is deserved here. Among the excuses, passed bucks and pointed fingers, a review should create improved practices -- and possibly some searched consciences.

While police spokespersons are euphemistically avoiding the label, this is a serial murder case, Canada's worst. But Vancouver officials currently appear more worried about minimizing its exposure to civil litigation than in preventing a reoccurrence.

Lest anyone inclined to wishful thinking believe otherwise, there have been, are and will be other serial murderers hunting on the streets and highways of B.C., preying on society's fringe because of the powerlessness of such victims.

This means that failings in the investigative response must be identified and addressed -- sooner, rather than later. The problems will not fix themselves. The government needs to make a commitment to some form of inquiry; the timing should be specified and the findings made available to the public.

Jamie Graham, the former chief superintendent with the Surrey RCMP, recently took the helm of the VPD. Facing him are significant challenges -- and opportunities.

The new chief constable's lack of baggage with the department gives him the flexibility to impartially review and improve investigative practices in cases of sexual predatory crime. But he must be supported and guided, not undermined and ambushed. The VPD needs to expend its leadership energy externally, making Vancouver safer, rather than internally on political infighting.

The motto of the VPD is Servamus, a Latin word with the dual meaning of "to serve" and "to guard." The duty is clear.

Dr. Kim Rossmo, director of research for the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., is a former detective inspector with the Vancouver police department.

© Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun

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Updated: August 21, 2016