EDITORIALS

LERA – From Behind the Badge

civic center cops (6)

Most Police Officers agree that some form of independent investigative authority must coexist with the Police Service.

Police Officers are fully trained in the use of force and know what consequences could befall upon them for any use of excess force or abuse of authority.  Accountability and responsibility is an important part of the job.

Unfortunately, for most Law Enforcement officers, LERA (The Law Enforcement Review Agency) has become nothing more than a platform used by habitual criminals to deflect from their criminality or to persecute Police Officers.  LERA is also frequently used by people who have significant mental health issues.

In 2011, LERA received a total of 169 formal citizen complaints about the Police.  That number is up 140 from 2010.  Most complaints concern allegations of the use of excessive force.

The recently released 2011 annual report is chocked full of statistical analysis and interesting factoids such as:

  • The WPS accounts for 88% of the complaints made to LERA.
  • Sixty-one (61%) percent of complaints arise out of some form of legal involvement of the complainants
  • Eleven (11%) percent of cases involved Assault Police Officer or resist arrest cases
  • Ten (10%) percent of cases involved traffic offences
  • Nine (9%) percent of cases involved intoxicated people
  • Sixty-seven (67%) percent of complaints were made by males.
  • The average age of complainants was twenty-three (23) years

The report also contains several examples of cases complete with findings and dispositions.  The allegations contained in the report are all untested dissertations from the complainants.

What you won’t find in the report is the “unadulterated truth”.

  • The report doesn’t include statistics on erroneous, vindictive or vexatious reports.
  • The report doesn’t include statistics on how many complainants were high, drunk or had some form of mental health issues.
  • The report doesn’t include statistics on how much time the average Police Officer has to waste responding to erroneous complaints.
  • The report doesn’t include statistics on how much money the erroneous complaints cost the tax paying public who not only foot the bill for the LERA investigation, but also pay for legal representation for the accused officer and for any overtime incurred in the hearing process.

Most Police Officer’s are aware of a common Law Enforcement principle; if you’re hard-working and committed to enforcing the law, you will inevitably find yourself on the wrong end of a LERA complaint.  Over the course of my career I had several of these complaints made against me.

My first complaint centered on an allegation of abuse of authority for calling a complainant a “twit.”  (A four letter word but not one of the ones found in my vocabulary.)  It was a ridiculous waste of time that required consultations with lawyers and an interview with a LERA investigator.  The complaint was eventually dismissed.

My second complaint involved an individual who interfered with a traffic stop I was conducting.  The “complainant” was a pedestrian who just happened to walk by my cruiser car after I stopped a motorist for a Highway Traffic Act violation.  During the traffic stop, the “complainant” continually interrupted me as I was trying to deal with the offender.  At one point I told the individual if he didn’t stop obstructing me that he would be arrested.  At that point he begrudgingly left the area.  I was subsequently served with a complaint citing allegations of abuse of authority.  A charge that was eventually dropped after I was forced to jump through all the usual hoops.

My third complaint involved a well-known drug dealer who I “bumped into” at the Law Courts Building at 408 York Ave.  I was escorting an important witness to Court and upon entering the building I noticed the gangster sizing me up and moving towards me.  As he approached I wasn’t sure what was going on inside of his thick head.  He appeared to be “goal oriented” as he walked directly towards me, as if he was playing some sort of game of chicken.  Before I knew it, he  thrust his shoulder into me and immediately started yelling allegations that I assaulted him.  In fact, he went directly to LERA and made a formal complaint against me.

After a brief investigation the case was dismissed as vexatious and the file was forwarded to the Internal Investigations Unit to consider charges against the “complainant.”  Unfortunately, no charges were pursued by the Police Service.

The last complaint I dealt with featured false allegations by another complainant with apparent mental health issues.

The complainant was stopped in a taxi cab after I observed him with a frail elderly lady acting in a suspicious manner.  After stopping the taxi I asked the man to come back to my police car to speak with me.  The male willingly exited the taxi and came back to the cruiser.  Shortly after entering the cruiser car the man’s entire demeanor dramatically changed.  He suddenly started ranting about Police abuse of authority and advised me that he had made six previous LERA complaints and intended to make his seventh against me.

After speaking with the elderly lady and confirming her well-being, the man was permitted to leave.  Not long after the incident I received a LERA complaint alleging I forcefully removed the man from the taxi, placed his arm behind his back and forced him into the back of the cruiser car.  The complaint also contained “medical evidence” from a Doctor who examined the man shortly after the incident.  The medical evidence amounted to “red marks” on the complainants upper body.  Despite the fact the man was a “frequent flier” with LERA, the Commissioner forwarded the file for trial before a Provincial Court Judge largely because there was “medical evidence” of an assault.

(I had no doubt the complainant tried to up the ante by causing some form of self-inflicted abrasions (red marks) to his upper body.  His frustration at going 0 for 6 in his previous LERA complaints being all the motivation he apparently needed.)

The fact I was going to trial on this case shocked me.  Shocking because the LERA investigator interviewed the taxi driver who advised him no such assault took place.  It was his recollection the complainant freely exited his cab and did so without assistance from Police.  Shocking because the taxi driver would be in India at the time of the trial and his evidence would be inadmissible.  In a strange turn of events, policy and procedure would ensure the only independent evidence that existed would be excluded from the proceedings.  Evidence that clearly exonerated me and implicated the complainant for making false allegations.

At trial, the complainant took the witness stand and went on a rant about Police and how they frequently abuse their authority.  The unfortunate thing for him was that he would soon end up going 0 for 7 after completely forgetting to include the details of the “assault” in his evidence.  It seems the man forgot why he was there and simply testified from his memory.  The complaint was dismissed.

Police Officers in Winnipeg have been dealing with these same kind of time-consuming, expensive, erroneous complaints since the inception of LERA in 1985.

I’m not suggesting that Police Officers don’t ever use excessive force or abuse their authority.  We all know there are cases when officers cross that line.  What I am suggesting is that LERA has been an expensive, ineffective entity when it comes to ensuring accountability on both sides of the fence.  Investigative bodies like LERA lose credibility and respect when they let criminals exploit them for the sole purpose of persecuting Police Officers.  The LERA Commissioner must have the discretionary powers and ability required to dismiss erroneous and vexatious allegations outright.

The creation of the Winnipeg Police Board and the new Independent Investigative Unit will ensure that Police Officers in the City of Winnipeg and Province of Manitoba will be subjected to new layers and levels of scrutiny never experienced before in this jurisdiction.

It’s my hope the lessons of LERA are not lost on these entities.

When it comes to LERA, the time has come to put this lame duck to bed!

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