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Editorial: Sensible solution

It’s an idea that’s long overdue. In the aftermath of the inquiry into the death of Donald Dunphy, justice ministers from the four Atlantic provinces have agreed to look at building a joint civilian-led agency to investigate police officers charged with serious crimes.

The fact that police officers clearly do get different treatment when they are subject to criminal investigations, something shown in the Dunphy inquiry, is reason enough to back inquiry Commissioner Justice Leo Barry’s recommendation of an independent investigating body.

“To avoid the appearance of preferential treatment for police officers, the province should make arrangements for the investigation of police-involved serious incidents or deaths by a civilian-led Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), either by participation in a regional organization or through memoranda of agreement with other provinces,” Barry wrote in his inquiry report.

Having a team that is not centred solely in this province is a good idea for several reasons. First, sharing the cost is good policy, not to mention that fact that we would hope we wouldn’t have enough serious incidents in this province to require our own organization.

“One of the big drawing points of an Atlantic SIRT team is that there are economies of scale that could be achieved there,” Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told CBC.

A response team that covered the Atlantic provinces would likely attract — and keep — top-flight investigators, and keep them interested and involved.

“While the most obvious benefit of a regional or collaborative approach is cost savings, there are other benefits,” Barry wrote in his inquiry report. “The current population of Newfoundland and Labrador is approximately 525,000. This is significantly less than Nova Scotia, the next smallest province that has established a SIRT, which has a population of over 940,000. The number of serious incidents involving police in an area is, to some extent, proportional to its population. In the past three years, outside agencies, either the (Ontario Province Police) or another agency, have investigated 18 RNC files. With so few files, there is a risk that a dedicated Newfoundland and Labrador oversight body would not have enough work either to keep staff productively engaged or to maintain and develop investigative skills.”

A regional team also might negate the possibility of investigators investigating their own — investigators could come from outside this province, and beyond its tight web of interconnected relationships.

It’s not that long ago that the RCMP had a policy of not allowing new police officers to serve in their home provinces — it was a pragmatic solution to the reality that it’s not easy for new officers to adjust to the role, particularly if they have to deal with people they might have grown up with.

A regional SIRT organization might just be the best of solutions.

Now, let’s hope it moves beyond the planning stage.

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