VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Missing persons unit 'beefed up'
Police say many problems cited in scathing audit now fixed
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Many of the problems identified in a scathing internal audit of the Vancouver police missing persons unit have already been fixed, according to Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard.
But he acknowledged that some key recommendations made in the year-old audit -- including one to launch a review of hundreds of unsolved cases -- have not yet been addressed.
The Vancouver Sun reported Tuesday that a confidential audit submitted to LePard in October 2004 found that understaffing, inadequate supervision and shoddy record-keeping compromised the ability of the missing persons unit to solve cases.
The audit's author, retired Insp. John Schouten, made 50 separate recommendations to improve the unit.
On Tuesday, LePard said 27 of those recommendations have been fully implemented, including:
- The unit's size has been increased from one to two investigators. And LePard added that they are highly-skilled, mid-career officers -- one from the sexual offence squad and the other from the missing women task force.
- The job description for officers in the unit has also been changed. "We have raised the bar and made it clear that this is a position for highly-motivated, energetic people," said LePard. Schouten's audit had raised concerns that, historically, the position of missing person investigator had been given to poorly motivated, pre-retirement officers.
- All active cases have been assigned to officers who work in the unit. The audit found several investigations had been assigned to officers who had since retired or transferred out of the unit.
- All cases are now immediately reviewed by a patrol sergeant. The audit raised concerns that, in some cases, missing person files may not be investigated for as long as 84 hours on a holiday weekend.
- New rules have been put in place for working with the joint RCMP-VPD missing women task force. The audit found the VPD did not index cases it had sent to the task force, leading to confusion about the status of some files -- including one case where a file was "closed" even though the person was still missing.
LePard added that the VPD will soon select a new sergeant to lead the unit to replace Sgt. John Dragani, who was suspended in April after police began an investigation into alleged possession of child pornography on his home computer.
No charges have yet been laid in that case.
One of the other key recommendations made in Schouten's audit was that the VPD launch a review of hundreds of unsolved missing person cases -- including adding a third investigator to the unit to work on them.
LePard said Tuesday that while the VPD would like to review old missing person cases, they are not a top priority.
"We haven't made a decision about how we're going to handle that," he said. "When we have fresh kidnapping and robbery cases, that will take priority over historical missing person cases."
He said the VPD may be able to take a closer look at old cases after it receives funding for 50 additional officers in 2006.
Family members of the missing women -- who have criticized the VPD's handling of that case -- expressed frustration Tuesday that problems in the unit were not identified sooner.
"I would have hoped they'd learned from the mistakes they made," said Lynn Frey, whose daughter Marnie went missing in 1997.
"It doesn't seem to me like they've learned anything."
Erin McGrath, whose sister Leigh Miner went missing from the Downtown Eastside in 1994, said she assumed the VPD had made changes to its missing persons unit years ago and was shocked to learn that so many problems still persisted.
"I assumed that they were cleaning it up," she said. "You'd think it would have been a priority for them."
LePard said the VPD should get credit for initiating its own audit of the unit and doing its best to implement its recommendations.
But he acknowledged Tuesday that the situation shouldn't have deteriorated so badly.
"I wasn't fully aware of all that was going on in there," he said. "And clearly, in retrospect, there needed to be better management and supervision of that unit."
© The Vancouver Sun 2005
Updated: August 21, 2016