SIRT director says more resources needed to police the police

Felix Cacchione has had a busy first few months on the job.

click to enlarge SIRT director Felix Cacchione speaks to reporters Tuesday inside City Hall. - THE COAST
SIRT director Felix Cacchione speaks to reporters Tuesday inside City Hall.

The province's police watchdog is being stretched thin investigating cases across Atlantic Canada.

Felix Cacchione, director of the Serious Incident Response Team, explained the problem Tuesday during a presentation to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners.

Last month, Nova Scotia witnessed its first police shooting death since SIRT was formed in 2012. The next morning, there was another in Prince Edward Island. The back-to-back deaths “sucked all our resources,” says Cacchione.

“You can’t just send one person and ask one person to do all that’s required for a proper investigation.”

The independent police watchdog investigates deaths, serious injuries, sexual assaults, domestic violence and other crimes involving police officers across Atlantic Canada.

Along with Cacchione as director, SIRT has a team of just four handling all those cases—two civilian investigators and two seconded police officers.

More money, says Cacchione, would allow for more investigators.

Already this year SIRT has launched two investigations on PEI and three in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“If we have to send someone to Labrador, that’s quite a piece away,” says Cacchione. “It’s difficult to get to. You can’t have people just sort of fly in and fly out because investigations aren’t done in a day or two days.”

While other Atlantic provinces cover travel expenses when SIRT takes on a case, their governments don't contribute any funding to the Nova Scotian-backed watchdog.

Recently, Newfoundland and Labrador set aside an initial $250,000—and $500,000 annually after the first year—for a new independent police oversight agency of its own, though it's unclear whether that group will be independent of SIRT or work with its Nova Scotian cousin.

Cacchione says he hasn't brought up the request for additional resources to Atlantic Canadian Justice ministers yet and can't say if there's any political will for the idea.

“It requires further discussions.”

The retired Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge was named director of the Serious Incident Response Team back in March, replacing founding SIRT director Ron MacDonald who left last October.

The first few weeks on the job have not been quiet.

Aside from the aforementioned shooting deaths, so far this year there have also been two cases of sexual assault involving RCMP officers—one in Newfoundland and one in Nova Scotia—along with accusations of police brutality in dealing with a teenager girl and charges against Halifax Regional Police officer Gary Basso for assaulting a homeless man outside a shelter.

Despite the busy caseload, Cacchione praised the objectivity and diligence of his investigators on Tuesday.

The SIRT director told the board of commissioners his years on the bench installed something of a subconscious bias towards police officers, who he's previously watched “circling the wagons” when accused of criminal misconduct.

But Cacchione—to his pleasure—says he's found his team fully committed to their work.

“They don’t like, excuse me, dirty cops and they’re prepared to call one dirty if necessary,” he says. “That was a relief for me.”

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