New West's top cop too easy on special constable caught driving impaired: police watchdog

B.C.’s police watchdog says New Westminster’s top cop was too easy on a local special constable caught drinking and driving while off duty last year.

Special municipal Const. Leanne Keith was pulled over at a Coquitlam checkstop just before midnight on March 24, 2017, according to a public notice from the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner last month.

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She told officers she had had one glass of wine about an hour earlier but then blew over the legal limit.

She was handed a 90-day driving suspension, and her Volkswagen Jetta was impounded for 30 days.

New West police reported the matter to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, who ordered an investigation.

NWPD investigated the incident, and Chief Const. Dave Jones eventually substantiated one allegation of “discreditable conduct” for impaired driving against Keith.

He offered her a pre-hearing conference and a written reprimand, but police complaints commissioner Stan Lowe rejected his decision, saying the proposed measures “did not address the seriousness of the misconduct.”

Lowe then handed the case over to Supt. Marcie Flamand of the Vancouver Police Department.

She reviewed the case and recommended a one-day suspension without pay.

But Lowe took issue with Flamand’s decision as well, especially her reason’s for not handing out a bigger penalty.

Flamand had noted – along with Keith’s unblemished employment history and sincere remorse – that her duties were not as police-like as other constables and special constables, and she didn’t wear a uniform.

Lowe called that distinction “artificial.”

“I note that by virtue of her role in swearing informations, SMC Keith plays an integral role in the initiation of criminal proceedings, including those charging persons with criminal offenses for impaired driving,” Lowe said in the notice.

He added that making a distinction based on constables’ duties is “not consistent with the public expectation that sworn officers be held to a higher standard.”

The commissioner also pointed to precedents that suggest a three-day suspension is the minimum a constable should get for drinking and driving off duty.

Lowe has ordered a Review on the Record into the matter because he said the disciplinary measures proposed are “inappropriate or inadequate” and and the complaint against Keith is “serious in nature as the allegations involve a significant breach of the public trust.”

Lowe has appointed retired provincial court judge Brian Neal to preside over the review.

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