Chapter 5: Accountability and Investigation

5.2 British Columbia’s Police Act

In British Columbia, the Police Act allows for complaints against municipal police officers to be made directly by an aggrieved party or by a complainant who is acting as a third party. The latter, called a third-party complaint, allows a person who is otherwise uninvolved in the incident to make a complaint. The rationale is to protect those people who have been victimized by police who do not want to complain (or are not capable of doing so) to be safeguarded. The third-party complaint rule essentially protects those who do not complain, and in doing so allows for the investigation of officers whose unethical conduct may have otherwise gone uninvestigated.

Complaints about police misconduct under the Police Act must be related to the following:

  • Allegations of misconduct by individual police members
  • Complaints concerning various aspects of the administration of a municipal police department
  • Matters that concern the maintenance of discipline within a police department and that do not directly impact the public

The nature of the allegations against police officers under the Police Act is varied; however, two complaint types that face police officers are corruption and breach of public trust.

Corruption as defined by the Police Act includes such things as not promptly returning money or property while  performing one’s duty; using or attempting to use the position of police officer for personal gain; and using or attempting to use equipment or facilities for purposes unrelated to duty.

Breach of public trust encompasses a wide range of activities that are used as a “catch-all.” When an officer engages in behaviour that is unethical, but not against the Criminal Code or other legislation under which civilians would be charged, the officer can be charged under the Police Act. Charges can be brought against an officer for unethical activities such as:

  • Anything that discredits the reputation of the member’s police department
  • “Abuse of authority,” referred to as oppressive conduct toward a member of the public
  • Using unnecessary force, or detaining or searching a person without good and sufficient cause
  • On or off duty, when in uniform, using profane, abusive, or insulting language to any person. The language can be used to intimidate people or disrespect them

The Police Act states that the regulations detail the expected or code of professional conduct for municipal police officers within the province of British Columbia. Along with the expectations for conduct are the consequences that may occur when an officer commits a disciplinary default.


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Ethics in Law Enforcement Copyright © 2015 by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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