(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 18, 2004)
Police politics aids organized crime
By Leo Knight
After a few years of gains, it seems we are about to surrender, yet again, in the war on organized crime.
What had been rumoured for the past few weeks seems to have come to pass with the announcement from the office of the solicitor general that the RCMP would oversee the operations of the Organized Crime Agency of B.C. (OCA). And it's sad, really.
OCA was put together in 1999 to replace the moribund Coordinated Law Enforcement Unit (CLEU) as a leaner, meaner, fast moving response to the challenges presented to law enforcement from the likes of the Hells Angels and the Asian organized crime groups like the Big Circle Boys, 14 K and Sun Yee On triads, all exceptionally active in British Columbia.
OCA was always a problem for the carpet cops at RCMP E division headquarters. By design, it was an independent agency not mired in the bureaucratic meanderings which typically made it next to impossible to actually do anything in the complex, yet fast-paced investigations into organized crime.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, a carpet cop is one so far removed from the sharp end of the stick, they think handcuffs are a sexual aide. Unfortunately, they tend to be in positions to make important decisions which usually make the real cops frustrated and angry.
After a couple of years of some limited successes, OCA began to branch out and feel its oats, so to speak. In the interim, the Mounties, who see themselves as the rightful owner of the organized crime file, became jealous of the attention and wins their independent cousins were getting.
Not to mention the fact the RCMP booted a major conspiracy file when 2.5 tonnes of cocaine were seized in the waters off Washington state and to date, no charges have been laid. That file, for those of you who are interested, is discussed in depth in Julian Sher and William Marsden's book, The Road to Hell.
In the space of two years, OCA was instrumental in taking down a number of criminal operations and seized enough drugs and property to fund themselves for the foreseeable future were they actually able to utilize the fruits of their labours as does the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
In fact, it's reasonable to say that OCA did more in two short years than the RCMP did in the previous decade. Which, I might add, was exactly the reason for the creation of OCA in the first place.
Last year, certain members of senior management of the RCMP managed to manipulate the solicitor general, and convince him that the annual OCA budget should be administered through the provincial policing budget. The decision was then made to direct the roughly $14-million annual budget of OCA through the auspices of the RCMP. The result was OCA needed to go, cap in hand, to the Mounties when they needed anything to do their job.
All that served to do was to give the RCMP control over their bastard child, the one they had not been able to keep under their bureaucratic thumb.
For a little insight into what the difficulties are, one needs to further study The Road to Hell. Certain elements of the RCMP brass are miffed because of the candour of some of the line investigators to the authors in analyzing the situation with the Hells Angels.
"Plagued by rivalries, incompetence, and a general underestimation of the threat posed by the bikers, the police in B.C. - especially the RCMP - did little to take on the Hells Angels until their power made them virtually impregnable," say the authors.
And a darned accurate statement were you to ask anyone remotely close to organized crime investigations in this province.
But something strange seems to be going on between OCA, the RCMP, the solicitor general and the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
Earlier this month, Solicitor General Rich Coleman made a statement suggesting something might occur with OCA, but "not in the immediate future." He was intimating that some type of review was going on, but no decisions had been made.
Literally days later, came the announcement that OCA would fall under the command umbrella of the RCMP. Some review period.
Last week, VPD police Chief Jamie Graham held his first management meeting after being away for a couple of weeks. In that morning meeting, Graham referred to a point in the future when VPD would be able to restore the five seconded positions to OCA. He was asked then about the Mounties' control of OCA. He knew nothing about it.
Considering Graham is part of the joint management team, the oversight committee of OCA, this seems strange indeed. Almost as though it was ram-rodded through while he was out of town and out of touch.
Why? It's all about control and nothing to do with actually fighting organized crime. It seems the politics of policing has handed organized crime another victory.