Coroner's inquest provides accountability for Langley RCMP

Last week was quite a week for Langley RCMP.

The local detachment was under the microscope at a coroner’s inquest in Burnaby. This was in relation to the police shooting death of Alvin Wright in August, 2010, and received intense media scrutiny.

While the pressure on the local detachment was intense, it was necessary. Any time a citizen is shot and killed by police, it requires complete and full disclosure of all the relevant facts.

In this particular case, the shooting death was handed over to Vancouver Police for investigation, and in my view, the delays in investigating it (for a total of 16 months) were completely unnecessary and only added to the view held by many that police always take care of their own.

The VPD delays were more than made up for by a swift, competent and complete coroner’s inquest, and full credit goes to coroner Vincent Stancato for conducting the most comprehensive and public look at this tragedy. He and his jury managed to do so in just four days, and this span of time included a late decision to have RCMP Supt. Derek Cooke testify about reinstating Sgt. Don Davidson to full duty, just over a week after the shooting.

While Wright’s family has filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, and that matter is a long way from resolution, I believe the inquest itself, and the jury recommendations, go a long way towards providing some much-needed answers.

The public now have a full picture of why the RCMP were called, of how they responded, of their approach to the situation inside Wright’s townhouse, and the challenge Davidson faced when confronted by Wright, who had a knife and a hatchet in a small bedroom.

The public also know more about why Cooke reinstated him to full duty so soon, and know that he was not required to actually put the events of that night into writing until months after the fact.

The jury recommendations are reasonable and should be implemented, to the best of the RCMP’s ability. There will be situations where police can’t announce themselves, but they should be very rare. There should be a full written version of what happened soon after a police shooting, and as noted by VPD Sgt. Brad Fawcett, the most accurate version will likely come about three to four days after the shooting, when the officer involved has had a chance to settle down and collect his or her thoughts, and all events are fresh in their memory.

To top off all that drama and emotion, Langley RCMP had to deal with a strange incident Wednesday night. An off-duty RCMP member who lives in Willoughby discharged his revolver inside his home, with his wife and children present. Police did a good job in swiftly investigating and charging their fellow officer, and this shows that they are starting to understand the importance of swift and impartial accountability.

It will be up to the courts to deal with this incident, but the swift investigation and news conference with Insp. Amrik Virk the following day is a good sign that Langley RCMP, and the force in general, are being far more responsive and proactive in cases involving fellow officers.

This is what the public has been demanding, particularly since the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport in 2007.

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