A 10-month investigation has uncovered an alleged kickback scheme involving Ottawa police officers and a tow-truck operator. According to the police investigation and reporting by the
Ottawa Citizen, three officers solicited bribes from a towing service in exchange for information about the locations of vehicle crashes.
Other towing services had complained to the police about the alleged arrangement since 2018. Moreover, drivers involved in crashes said they had observed money changing hands between police officers and tow-truck drivers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has filed criminal charges against the officers, the owner of a tow-truck company, and two other individuals.
This news story and a
similar investigation involving sheriff's deputies in California highlight two issues that internal auditors can help law enforcement agencies address: 1) establishing and enforcing a strong ethics and conflict-of-interest regime, and 2) implementing better controls over tow-truck operations involving police officers.
The City of Ottawa's police chief has expressed that the Ottawa Police Service's (OPS') code of conduct and ethics regime must be reviewed and strengthened. That exercise should be informed by the breadth and depth of the allegations against the three officers charged with several crimes by the RCMP, including:
- Giving out police information about vehicle collisions to one towing service and getting a financial kickback. Further, the officers allegedly gave that operator access to confidential OPS databases. Additionally, the RCMP has charged a family member of the towing operator with secret commissions.
- Obstruction of justice and breach of trust.
- Causing a false insurance claim to be made about a collision.
- Using the position of a police officer for personal gain on a dating website.
- Conspiring to break and enter to commit theft.
From the standpoint of strengthening the OPS code of conduct and ethics regime, one step the department has undertaken is establishing a unit responsible for ethics and code of conduct issues, headed by a senior officer at the superintendent (executive equivalent) level. Other measures that should be in place include:
- A code of conduct and ethics compliance regime, policies, and processes that specifically prohibit the kinds of behaviors listed above, along with disciplinary consequences for noncompliance. The regime should include a "zero tolerance" policy as appropriate for law enforcement officials.
- Regular reporting of cases involving disciplinary, ethics, and conduct issues, such as in the OPS Annual Report. The OPS reports on some professional conduct issues, but this mainly is statistical information. As a deterrent, the OPS should publicize cases where officers are found guilty of inappropriate or fraudulent actions.
Regarding the issue of controls over police forces and their interactions with towing services, the OPS and city officials should review the department's operations and policies, in part, to determine whether its processes need to change. That should include whether officers should have discretion about which towing service to call.
Perhaps a "blind" dispatch system is needed to ensure a better distribution of work among the various tow-truck operators in Ottawa. Making such changes may be complex in cases in which vehicles are involved in possible criminal activities, or where drivers in an accident have their own towing service, such as through the Canadian Automobile Association or a credit card company.