Just 28 per cent of the cases closed by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in 2015 were completed within 30 business days.
For the second year in a row, Ontario’s civilian police watchdog fell far short of its own performance standard for the timely closure of its investigations, according to an annual general report released Tuesday — a document that was itself delayed by nine months.
Just 28 per cent of the cases closed by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in 2015 were completed within 30 business days, a figure falling well short of the watchdog’s own performance standard of completing 65 per cent of its cases within the 30-day period.
The closure rate within that 30-day window dropped from 2014, when the watchdog closed just 33 per cent of its cases within that timeline.
Both figures represent a dramatic decline from 2012 and 2013, when nearly three quarters of the cases closed by the SIU were completed within 30 days; in both years, the SIU had a comparable or significantly higher new case load than in 2014 and 2015.
Jason Gennaro, spokesperson for the SIU, said that every year, the watchdog’s cases become more complex and labour-intensive, “requiring more time to investigate, analyze, and decide.” Factors such as cellphone security and dash cam video require more time to analyze, he said.
“It is important to note that each investigation is different, with its own requirements for evidence gathering and analysis. The Unit concludes each investigation once all the relevant evidence and data has been collected and analyzed, no matter how many days have passed,” Gennaro said.
Gennaro added that, in future annual reports, the SIU will be dispensing with the 30-day closure rate — a standard instituted in the 1990s, when the caseload was less than half of the current size and investigations were less complex.
The SIU 2015 annual report was released 21 months after the previous annual report, due to what the watchdog said were “resource and production-related factors.” It comes after the release Thursday of an ambitious report on police oversight in Ontario.
In it, lead author Justice Michael Tulloch made recommendations specifically targeted at reducing notoriously lengthy probes by the SIU, calling investigative delay “a major complaint” throughout his province-wide consultations.
“Long delays benefit nobody. They are particularly hard on affected persons and the police officers under investigation,” Tulloch wrote in his report. “Anecdotally, I heard that the SIU would often take twelve to sixteen months to close a file, even for simple investigations.”
Tulloch recommends that the watchdog aim to conclude its investigations within 120 days. When it cannot, the SIU should report to the public at that time and every 60 days after, he said.
In addition, Tulloch recommends the creation of a deputy director position to speed up closure rates by easing the workload on the SIU director, who is currently the only person responsible for making the decision to lay a criminal charge.
“A deputy director of investigations could ease that burden significantly, allowing the SIU director to attend to the many other responsibilities of the job,” Tulloch said.
Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General is currently reviewing these and Tulloch’s more than 100 other recommendations aimed at improving police oversight in the province.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, however, has committed to taking action in some key areas, including Tulloch’s recommendation that the SIU be given its own stand-alone legislation, separate from Ontario’s Police Services Act.
It’s a change SIU director Tony Loparco supports. In the annual report, Loparco said separate SIU legislation would “allow the unit to better adapt to fluctuating times, new case law and changes in law enforcement and technology.”
“Now is a time for real change, for positive attitudes and hope — hope for a better and even more independent future for the SIU,” Loparco wrote in the report.
Loparco was not made available Tuesday for an interview about the annual report or the Tulloch review. Gennaro said the SIU “is continuing to review Justice Tulloch’s report and is therefore not in a position to comment at the moment.”
The 2015 annual report also showed Toronto police were involved in one quarter of all SIU investigations in 2015 — 80 of the 312 investigations launched. That included three firearm deaths; 50 custody injuries; six custody deaths and 11 allegations of sexual assault.
The report also broke down the sex of complainants: 81 per cent were male, 19 per cent were female. The report does not contain other types of demographic data, including race-based statistics. However, Naqvi announced last week that the Ontario government will take action to require police watchdogs to begin collection such data.
Criminal charges were laid in 15 cases against 16 officers, representing about 6 per cent of 2015 investigations.