In one of only a few appearances since gaining his position with the RCMP five years ago, Southeast Division Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli held a press conference regarding the concerns over recent incidents with law enforcement.
Haugli told reporters Thursday (June 2) that he has heard many concerns from the public, local officials, friends and family regarding the actions of several South East Division RCMP members.
“High public confidence is what we strive for, and when we become aware of concerning behaviour we need to ensure the public we are taking the necessary steps to gather all the facts, using legislative processes to make a determination on what occurred and hold our members accountable,” he explained.
This comes after a video was released last week showing Kelowna RCMP officer Const. Lacey Browning dragging UBCO student Mona Wang down a hall and pressing her head to the floor with a boot during a wellness check. Browning is facing a civil suit for that incident and a petition calling for her to be fired and charged has garnered over 350,000 signatures. Currently, Browning remains with the Kelowna detachment on desk duty.
When questioned about the video of the officer dragging the student, Haugli replied he was deeply concerned when he first viewed it.
“I am sorry to Ms. Wang for what occurred. If that was my family member or friend I would want answers as well,” he said.
A Code of Conduct investigation is underway into the incident and Haugli said because of the high priority of this investigation it will be advanced to the Abbotsford RCMP for a review. However, the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of British Columbia, a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into incidents of death or serious harm that may have been the result of the actions of a police officer, will not be investigating this incident. Haugli said despite Wang’s civil suit against the RCMP member and the detachment there was not enough reason for the IIO to become involved.
The investigation will be handed over to Crown Counsel, which should conclude sometime in July, according to Haugli.
“Given the UBCO case and other wellness check cases highlighted throughout this country my team and I feel it is of the utmost importance to expand the best practices of the Police and Crisis Team program (PACT) in the Southeast District,” said Haugli. “Generally mental health-related calls for service on the Southeast District are increasing. We are especially seeing an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The PACT consists of a dedicated psychiatric nurse and a specially trained RCMP officer who patrols the streets and responds to calls.
In the last four years, there has been a 21 per cent increase in mental health check occurrences. In the first five months of 2020, the Southeast District of the RCMP experienced 6,446 occurrences and in May the highest number ever of mental health check occurrences was recorded, totalling 1,456.
Haugli expressed RCMP should be a support mechanism when calls come in for people in crisis and such calls “should and could be assessed by a trained mental health worker.”
“My goal is to greatly expand this needed service (PACT) in existing locations and it is not always available, and introduce it in as many communities as possible,” stated Haugli.
Currently, only Kamloops and Kelowna have a PACT program.
“If there is an inability to provide a dedicated Interior Health nurse for every call, then I want to implement a real-time information-sharing model that provides our members with important health information that will ensure a wholesome assessment of the person in crisis before attended the call,” he explained.
When asked about privacy concerns prompted by such a model, which would allow RCMP officers access to personal medical records, Haugli said they’re outweighed by the wellbeing of the person in crisis.
Haugli said he is looking to work with the CEO of Interior Health to increase the PACT program, which currently only consists of one officer.
Haugli would not comment on how many officers within Southeast Division were on administrative duty at this time but said all of the region’s 1,300 officers are “concerned on the support from the public.”
“My members, in my view, are doing an exceptional job. There is a number of dedicated women and men that show up for work every day, even through the pandemic,” he added.
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