A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Ways to Police, and to police the police

Four members of the RCMP shot dead in Mayerthorpe Alberta. Two more mounties shot dead in separate incidents when they answered calls alone. Four Mounties taser a confused man at Vancouver International airport, and the man dies!
All these things, and many more, point to a serious problem at the RCMP, and that problem is training.
Being a policeman or woman is one of the most dangerous and complicated jobs in our society. Officers must deal with a wide variety of people, places and circumstances, probably more than in any other occupation in our society. Yet, to become a police officer in Canada, requires less training and education than most other jobs. In fact, the period of training required to become a police officer is less than the training required to become a cook, a carpenter, a first aid attendant, a bricklayer, and many other things.
All one needs to do to become a police officer in Canada is to be of reasonably good physical and mental condition, of age of majority, and willing to undergo six months basic training. One does not need a degree of any kind, and in some circumstances, does not even have to graduate from high school!
In fact, the training period is so short, and the prerequisites for being admitted to such a training program, so minor, that many choose to become policemen and women simply because it is "easy." Because of this, many people, who really should not become police, are actually becoming police.
I know one fellow who joined the RCMP simply because he had no other options, and decided that when our society goes to hell, he wants to be one of the guys who has a gun. Another I know, became a cop after failing to make the NHL. He went from the Edmonton Oilers training camp, where he was an early cut, right into the RCMP academy at Regina! In his hockey career this fellow had been an enforcer. Through school his grades were, at best, average, and his skills limited. It was while at training camp that he met a police officer who suggested joining the RCMP might be an good career choice, mostly because it did not require him to have to go further in school, and he had the physical fitness it takes to become a cop!
Another police officer I know became a cop not because she wanted to be a cop, but because her friends were cops.
If there is any job in our society where are best and brightest should be working, it is in police services. It should not be the other way around. Becoming a police officer should not be an option for people who can't find a job, don't possess the skills required to enter a profession, or have few other options. If anything, becoming a police officer should be an option for people who excel, who are bright, who have a wide range of options open to them, and who have a demonstrated sensitivity towards people, cultures, problem solving, conflict resolution, and an ability to think on their feet. By no means should policing be the realm of people who's only real strength is physical fitness. The fact you are a jock should not qualify you to become a cop.
While the focus, of the recent unfortunate incidents involving police, has been the use of tasers, I think the real focus of any judicial inquiry should be police training. In the video we've all seen, police move in and act, but the question that really needs to be asked is: Why did they act the way they did? To me, the taser gun is irrelevant.
Early on in the Vancouver Airport video we see a woman trying to communicate with the victim. Quite clearly this woman recognizes the fellow has a problem of some sort that is not being dealt with, and she does not feel at all threatened by the man's demeanor. We also hear, on the audio track, that several bystanders, and security personnel, have identified the problem has something to do with language. Clearly, average Joes, who are standing around, have a clear idea what the issue is. I found myself wondering why, when so many others had a grasp on the situation, the police weren't getting it.
What I saw was police who weren't interested in "getting it." What I saw was four guys who simply wanted to go in, take the guy out, then get back to whatever it was they were doing before they were called. I did not see any sign of professional policing, which is supposed to involve insuring the safety and security of the people. I did not see any attempt by police to determine what the issue was. I did not see any of the policemen consult with one another, ask questions, or pay any attention to what they were being told by witnesses. What I saw was a bunch of guys on a clock who wanted, primarily, to get in and get out, without any regard for the individual who was clearly displaying signs of distress.
When this is all over I'm afraid those officers are going to be fall guys. In all likelihood they will lose their jobs, or somehow find themselves restrained in their jobs. I also suspect that one or two of them will have serious regrets about how they handled the situation. Sadly, what we won't see is anyone in the RCMP or government taking any real responsibility for what was really going on. And what was really going on was these policemen had absolutely no idea how to deal with the situation.
Is that the officers' fault? I think not.
It is time for the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and for the police service boards of this country, to take a serious look at policing, how it is done, how officers are trained, and who is being trained for the job. It is also time for governments and police agencies to stop blaming individual officers for breakdowns in policing. There is a problem with policing in Canada, and something needs to be done about it.
In my opinion, that something begins with training. People wanting to become police officers should have to at least have a supporting degree, or some years experience on the community level, or in related occupations, before even being accepted to undergo police training. There also needs to be better compensation for police officers, so that police forces are able to attract higher educated and more experienced personnel.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to begin to look at how policing is done.
Is the current para-military approach to policing really working?
Do we really need for all police to be armed to the teeth and in constant combat ready mind sets?
Is it really effective to hire police based on physical prowess, as opposed to intellectual ability and social awareness?
Are there other ways to effectively police, apart from the flack-jacketed, heavily armed, big beefcake approach?
Yes there are, and we here in the Great White North had better change how policing is done before our police lose what little credibility they have left.

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