Most police officers are dedicated public servants who do very difficult work in trying and sometimes dangerous circumstances.  Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts and intentions, mistakes are made.  Although police mistakes may have serious consequences, like causing the deaths of innocent people, it’s not fair for police to be criticized for their errors, or worse, to face discipline or other punishment.

As a result of my professional experience as counsel for aggrieved citizens in numerous civil cases against police agencies, a dozen coroners’ inquests into police-involved deaths, several formal complaints made to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and British Columbia’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the APEC hearings, the Frank Paul Inquiry and the current Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, I think I’m qualified to recognise the hallmarks of police coverups. 

Here’s a quick primer for the benefit of any police officers who may not be well versed in the art, on how to whitewash incidents of potential police misconduct, provided as a free public service*:

1) Control the investigation. Investigate the matter yourself if you can.  If you can’t, find another police agency to do it for you.

2) Don’t make notes or talk to investigators right away.  Loose lips sink ships. Take your time. See your union rep and get help from everyone you can before making any statements to anyone.

3) Lawyer up!  The taxpayers give you unlimited funds for the best lawyers money can buy.  Take advantage of their largesse and go see experienced legal counsel right away to get their help in preparing your version of what happened.

4)  Get on the same page.  Make sure all your police union brothers and sisters also have their stories straight and that they take their time too.

5)  Conceal key documents.  Don’t reveal things like contemporaneous handwritten notes, transcripts of radio broadcasts, computer assisted dispatch (CAD) records, etc. unless someone forces you to.

6)  If you are forced to reveal important documents to some sort of tribunal, hold onto them as long as you can before dumping them, in a random and disorganized fashion, on anyone who may be trying to understand what actually happened.

7)  Before flooding the tribunal with paper, liberally edit or redact the documents, taking out anything that you think might be harmful.  Make sure you don’t turn over candid email communications-they can be particularly damning.

8)  If police testimony is required, try to find the smoothest, most experienced witness you can to give your side of the story, preferably as an “expert opinion”. 

9)  If you yourself have to testify about something really serious, have a memory lapse on crucial points.  It’s really hard for a lawyer to get behind a statement like, “It happened a long time ago and I can’t remember.  I wish I had some notes to assist my recollection but I lost them/didn’t make any” (choose the most applicable).

10)  If all else fails, get sick or quit.  If you resign your position to avoid the consequences of serious misconduct, you can’t be discipined and you’ll get that nice pension you’ve earned.  If you don’t have a vested pension, take stress leave and draw your full pay until you qualify for the pension.  Your union rep will help you with this process. 

*The foregoing constitutes my Charter-protected free expression of opinion and is not to be construed as legal advice.  For legal advice on any matter, please see a qualified lawyer in your own jurisdiction.