It’s been twelve (12) days since the newly formed Manitoba IIU (Independent Investigation Unit) caught it’s first police involved deadly force shooting case.
On September 20, 2015, Haki Sefa (44) was shot and killed in an apparent armed confrontation with members of the Winnipeg Police Tactical Support Team (TST).
News reports indicate Sefa was on his way to do harm to someone he thought had sexually assaulted a family member.
Reports indicate Sefa was confronted by the TST members on Highway 59 just north of Highway 44 at approximately 10:30 pm on Sunday evening. Photographs taken by news media at the scene showed a handgun on the roadway near the driver’s side door on Sefa’s white utility van.
As expected, IIU spokesman Civilian Director Zane Tessler has provided little in the way of meaningful information indicating, “The investigation is ongoing so no further details will be provided at this time.”
Of course it does, and it should, investigations like these are not conducted for the benefit of the media.
Unfortunately, the familiar stance has caused discomfort to certain members of main stream media who want to suggest nothing has changed when it comes to the, “Big Blue Wall of Silence.”
The infantile understanding some members of the media have when it comes to police involved deadly force investigations would be amusing if their conspiracy infused articles didn’t impact public perception.
One of the primary misunderstandings regarding police officer use of deadly force that results in the death of a citizen is the mistaken belief these incidents should somehow resemble citizen involved murder investigations.
We hear it all the time, “Why wasn’t the officer arrested at the scene, if I shot and killed someone they would have dragged me away in handcuffs.”
What people neglect to consider is the fact police officers carry firearms and use force during the course of employment in their roles as keepers of the public peace.
When as citizen shoots and kills someone, unless it’s in defence of their life or property, there is a presumption an unlawful act has occurred.
No such presumption exists when a police officer is involved in a fatal shooting.
The subsequent investigation may have several different outcomes:
- the shooting was justified
- the shooting was not justified
- the shooting was accidental
In Winnipeg, the majority of fatal police involved shootings are determined to be justified.
I don’t expect that to change no matter what entity does the investigation.
The Interview Process
One experienced journalist recently inferred members of the WPS had breached protocol by not remaining at the scene of the shooting.
“Shouldn’t they wait at the scene to be interviewed?,” he wrote.
“Wouldn’t his (Tessler’s) investigators want to interview the police who were involved right at the scene? You know, separate them and speak with each individually? The way police do it themselves when they investigate members of the public who are involved in homicide cases?”
The uniformed question is likely to negatively impact the perception of readers who assume the writer knew what he was talking about.
The question has some basis in reality but is factually flawed.
Police at the scene do separate witnesses and conduct brief field interviews but any formal, detailed interview almost always takes place in a secure police facility where video and audio taping equipment are used by investigators.
Police do not interview witnesses in homicide cases at or even near the crime scene.
The crime scene is secured and all non-essential personnel are removed to preserve and avoid the contamination of any potential evidence.
The Police Services Act, a document that’s easily accessible on the internet, stipulates the following:
Duties of officers at scene of incident
Section 65 (3) Until members of the independent investigation unit arrive at the scene of the incident, the police officers at the scene must take any steps that the officers would normally take in such an incident, unless directed otherwise by a member of the independent investigation unit.
The Notification of the IIU
It seems much hay is being made regarding the suggested tardiness of the call to the IIU to make notification regarding the fatal shooting.
According to media reports, the Civilian Director, Zane Tessler was notified by a member of the Police Executive at approximately 11:25 pm.
Tessler doesn’t seem to take issue with the timing of the notification but it seems some in the media may.
Section 66 (1) of the Police Act indicates, “The Chief of the Police Service must, as soon as practicable, notify the Independent Investigation Unit,” in cases of fatal police involved incidents.
People who have experienced a police involved shooting will tell you the incidents can be extremely chaotic, stressful and emotionally difficult. These elements impact everyone from front line officers, to street supervisors, to dispatchers, to communication center supervisors and almost everyone else in the chain of command.
As a point man for WPS police involved shootings and homicide investigations for several years, I can assure you the telephone notification process can take time.
Fifty-five (55) minutes doesn’t seem to be enough time to support conspiracy theories or the theorists who attempt to influence our perception of these events. Regardless, expect the notification time to improve as the WPS and the IIU adapt to their newly formed relationship.
The IIU Team
The IIU investigative team consists of a Director of Investigations, a Team Commander and a total of eight (8) experienced investigators.
Media accounts report one investigator is a veteran of Scotland Yard while another is a former war crimes investigator from The Hague. It’s my understanding only one (1) investigator worked for the WPS while others may have previous experience working for the RCMP.
Critics suggest nothing has changed, it’s still police investigating police.
The idea that former police officers are somehow incapable of investigating serving police officers is a false perception perpetuated by main stream media.
In reality, before the IIU became operational, the WPS investigated, charged and convicted several serving members.
Despite that reality, critics still rely heavily on the infinitesimal number of failed police investigations to label all police officers, serving or retired, as inept, incompetent and incapable of doing their jobs with any degree of integrity.
Deadly force encounters with Law Enforcement Officers are highly dynamic, complex events that require the investigator to have highly specific skill sets, institutional knowledge and job related experience.
These specific qualities are simply not found in the private sector.
The End Game
Ultimately, the end game for the newly deployed IIU will be to follow their mission statement and conduct their investigations in an accountable, principled and impartial manner.
The end game is not about getting the job done quickly or pacifying hungry journalists in their insatiable quest to get a story.
It’s all about getting it right, period.