“To Serve And Protect” goes the mantra of many a Canadian Police Force. It’s likely true to suggest that it was Sir Robert Peel, the founding father of modern policing, that inspired this mantra. Peel set down nine principles upon which he believed policing should be based on.
One of those principles, which seems to have been forgotten by North American police forces, is this:
“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
You could say that I come from a tradition of policing. A great uncle that was the Chief of Police in a Canadian city, a father who patrolled some of Belfast’s roughest and meanest streets, before emigrating to Canada and joining a police force in Ontario, and I myself spent 15 years working in law enforcement.
What disturbs is the trend that I see of many police officers believing that somehow, they are set apart from the public, and in fact, are the masters. I used to be evaluated by supervisors, not based upon my rapport that I had carefully and slowly built up with criminals, community members, children, and parents, but by how many charges or tickets I wrote. Quotas of course, don’t exist. Instead of quotas, we had “benchmarks.” A nice semantical term to deny there are quotas. I recall one long evaluation session in which I was told that I “did not make full use of my legislated authority” because I had not met the benchmark that was expected for writing tickets.
I responded to this ridiculous assessment that the Prime Minister at the time, who had never invoked the War Measures Act, must be a poor Prime Minister for not making full use of his legislated authority.
During my 15 years, I observed many law enforcement agents, supposedly serving and protecting, who acted in outright disgusting ways. I realize that the public believes that most police officers are ‘good’, however that is defined – but I don’t believe this to be true. I also realize that I’m probably about to make many of my friends who are presently police officers, angry.
So be it. I have had several very disturbing experiences with police officers of different police forces over the past few years, personally. I am seeing a trend that concerns me very much.
A few years ago, I was driving along Hwy 401 at about 2:30 in the morning, when my lights on my truck stopped working. I was about half a mile from the next off ramp. I had to make a decision – pull off and stop the truck on the shoulder of the expressway or drive along the shoulder to the next exit, where I could park the vehicle properly in a parking lot, and perhaps determine what was wrong with the truck.
Regardless of what decision I made, there was some risk involved. Stopping the truck on the side of the 401 and not having 4 way flashers was a dangerous position to be in. Driving another half mile without lights was also dangerous, but at least that danger would be for a shorter period of time. Who knows how long I’d be sitting on the shoulder with transports whizzing by at 120 Kilometres per hour?
I made my decision, and about five minutes later, an OPP cruiser pulled up behind me as I travelled north on Brock Street, looking for a suitable place to park my truck. I stopped the truck, and opened the door. The police officer who had gotten out of his cruiser, screamed at me. “Get back in your f***ing truck, NOW, and close the door!”
I have to admit I was taken aback by his manner. I told the officer that I had no power in the truck, and I had power windows which wouldn’t lower. He responded in the same manner, “I told you to get back in your truck. Now!”
Hokey dokey. I do as I’m told. The officer struts up to my truck, opens my door slightly, and demands to know if I had been drinking. Well, I had just gotten off work. I’ve got a truck without power, and basically, I’m a stranded motorist. The officer has already been told what the problem is. Instead of trying to help me, he’s yelling at me. Telling me he can charge me for dangerous driving. Telling me I’m an idiot for looking for a safe place to park my truck. I’m telling you, this guy was looking for a fight. If I had acted the same way he was acting, I would have been labelled as aggressive, a risk to the officer. Under the circumstances, this officer was a risk to me. One wrong word, and I’d be in handcuffs and my face smushed into the pavement, I’m sure, along with charges of Assault Police.
Imagine if I had told him to “Back Off! Back Off Now!” I was scared of this guy. He was bigger than me, and his mannerisms were very aggressive towards me. But shouldn’t that have been my right to tell him to back off? I’m a stranded motorist, needing help. He’s treating me as if he suspects I’m a murderer. I’ve given him absolutely no reason to suspect anything other than I have no power in my truck. He finally left me alone, after I asked him to call his supervisor to the scene, but not without telling me that he would be back in half an hour, and if I hadn’t found a tow truck or some other way to remove my truck from the road, he’d make sure my truck was removed.
Even more recently, another disturbing incident with a member of the Orangeville Police Services. I was sitting in my office one night at about 1AM, when a police officer entered my business premises. He had his notebook in hand, and demanded to know my name. I thought that he was simply being a good policeman, and wanted to ensure that I was not some thief. I told him who I was, and explained I was working late. He then demanded to know my address and how long I’d been in my office. He never provided an explanation for his questions, and when I asked him why, he stated, “I’m investigating something,” and again demanded my address and now, my date of birth.
“Am I under investigation for something?” I asked. “Just answer my questions,” was the gruff response.
“But I don’t understand why you’re asking me these questions,” I said.
The officer immediately turned away and said to a fellow officer standing nearby, “This one won’t cooperate with the police.”
It turns out the police were investigating a suicide in a unit near mine. Why the officer couldn’t have explained this in the first place is beyond me. I’m sure he wanted to know if I had any helpful information (which I didn’t) – but it was quite obvious that this man had forgotten or had never been taught Peel’s Principles. I would gladly have cooperated if I had been given some assurance that I was not under investigation for something. I would have cooperated even if I was under investigation. I’m not even expecting that I should have been told all the details of the investigation – a simple explanation would have saved the officer and myself a lot of time and would have gone a long way to promoting police relations with a community member.
These are but two personal experiences I’ve had. I’ve observed many more. Cops often complain that they are shut out from society, and have no friends other than cop friends. The second part is more often than not, true. It has, I believe, more to do with the egotistical nature typical of many cops in North America than it is to do with how society at large treats them when they’re out of uniform.
Many – not all.. but more than enough to make a difference, resent being reminded that they are servants and not masters. Admittedly, it’s a tough thing to remember when one minute, you’re arresting some guy and using physical force, and the next minute remembering your a servant. But so what? Lots of jobs are tough. Many police officers likely make their job tougher than it really needs to be.
What would make most police officers’ jobs easier for them would be to ensure that before every shift, the parading Sergeant has them recite Peel’s Principles. Police Officers should then be evaluated on whether or not their actions and attitudes while on patrol, are in tune with those principles. Perhaps Pierre Lemieux is correct – it’s time to disarm the cops ( http://www.quebecoislibre.org/04/040207-12.htm ).
*For Peel’s Principles, see this page hosted on the New Westminster Police site: http://www.newwestpolice.org/peel.html