Canadian Cops – Servants Or Masters?

“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

20 thoughts on “Canadian Cops – Servants Or Masters?”

  1. I remember a string of rude questions when stopped for speedning — well, I wasn’t speeding, but I was pulled over anyways.. what really irritated me was the question “Where are you going”. So I answered, smiling, pointing down the road, “That way”. I was let off for speeding (90 in an 80km, go any slower and you’re a hazard!), but not before the rude questions elicted the fact that I was on my way to work..

    Lately I hear the local high school kids are routinely getting their cars searched at roadside stops. If they object, the police threaten them with impoundment of the vehicle until they get a warrant — again, with no evidence.

    1. If you are ticketed by Orangeville Police, don’t say a damn thing! Go to court, set a date. And then, go to the Doughnut Munchers Central on Centre Street and request the cop’s notes. Look at the notes. Did the cop write that there was no other traffic when there was? Did he say you admitted your guilt? In short, did he lie in his notes? A cop who stopped me (for doing 60 in a 50 at the 60 sign on westbound Broadway in front of the Brenda Plaza) did all of the above and I’ve logdged a complaint. If he lied in his notes in my case, you can be damn sure he’s done it to others as well just to make the ticket stick in court. Orangeville, this is the most expensive $40 you are ever going to collect!

      Here’s the good part! Six weeks later, I was driving along Broadway westbound from one end of town to the other. A car was on my tail from Mill Street to Centre (where it is single-lane westbound). A Centre, where it widens to two lanes westbound, the car roared past doing at least 80. I suspected the same cop was waiting for the car and sure enough, he was. Gumball machine on! I drove past and in my rear-view mirror saw the car pull out. What the hell? I went back to the cop and demanded an explanation. Why do I get a ticket and this person doesn’t? He says she was only doing 68 (if she was they why stop her for doing 68 when the speed increases to 60? Stop her for going 8 over?!) and that, because she just got off work at the emergency room, he let her off with a warning. So because I have the wrong job (I drive a bus in Toronto) I get a ticket.

      Later, he got on the blower and had the dispatcher run my information (I have a police scanner).

      God help us all if small towns ever get the right to use photo radar.

  2. Thanks for posting, Maurice. How would things be without the police? Well… I’m not advocating no police. But I don’t believe police should be acting as masters. And I don’t believe we would ever be without some form of policing.

    However, I do believe that most people come from a false premise that most individuals are so inherently evil, that we would have mobs in the street daily if we had less police. I don’t believe that for a moment.

    And in fact, history bears this out. Tell me.. how many of your friends would become completely disrespectful to other individuals with less police around?

    Do you believe that less police or a more prevalent attitude that police were our servants would lead to more crime against property and person?

    If so, why do you believe that?

  3. I grew up with the utmost respect for cops. I saw them as paragons. Bastions of society.

    Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed that I react to cops like a drug dealer would (avoid eye contact, move casually away). The sad part is that I’m as upstanding a citizen as I know how to be (I have had a parking ticket, but never a moving violation). Unfortunately, being innocent is no longer protection from the unbridled beligerence I see more and more from the police.

    A good friend of mine became a cop and turned into someone I didn’t want to know. He used to brag about intimidating people and writing his salary in tickets (a personal mission of his) each year. He was always snooping and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable speaking freely around him. We parted ways and I wouldn’t be surprised to find he ‘only has cops for friends’ now.

    It disgusts me to see a profession I once held in esteme degenerate to a ‘protection racket’ in only a few decades.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jake. I have to agree with everything you’ve said. There are some really decent cops.. but unfortunately, the culture of policing is one that makes it difficult for those who disagree with what they see, to say much or do anything.

      Somehow, we have to find a way to support those good cops that understand that they are servants, and graciously do their job as it was meant to be.

      There are just too many egotistical power hungry gun slinging people with badges.

  4. I get tired of cops who live above the law they are claiming to uphold. How many times have you been driving down the road with a cop on your tail… driving too close? If I did that to him I would get a ticket.

    I am sure this is not just an isolated case, but a police officer I know has kids who are very proud of their Dad’s ability to live above the law. They boast about how anytime their Dad gets pulled over for speeding, he just chats with the police officer and shows his identification — the i.d. showing that he too is a cop, and he gets off every time.

    1. Ha! Yeah, tail gating cops.. thankfully I don’t have to drive as much as I used to, but I remember all to well, driving along the 401 with some OPP cruiser so close behind me I couldn’t see the grill of the cruiser. Then, the cruiser would pull out and pass me doing at least 140 KM/Hour.. have you ever seen a police cruiser going slower than the flow of traffic?

  5. I think part of the attitude change in the police forces comes from the lads at the station watching all the Hollywood cop shows. Police budgets keep going up as the forces compete with each other to get the latest toys they’ve seen on TV. Every force seems to need a SWAT group armed like Star Wars Troopers. Every cop is festooned with beepers, guns, and God klnows what else. And the way Hollywood cops speak to the public must be an influence on the real-life lads.

    You may think this is trivial, but I see this trend also in the UK and in other European countries. More and more the point seems to be to intimidate the public, to make the public think the cops are omnipotent. This is policing by fear, and is far, far from Peel’s Principles (thanks for the link, BTW).

    1. Patrick, you may have a point there about the influence of Hollywood on police officers. But I think it goes deeper than that – there is an entire culture of disrespect for citizens and this insatiable demand that many cops have for being able to intimidate people.

      I sometimes wonder if a lot of cops weren’t beat up and bullied when they were little, and this is there way of getting back at the world or something.

      It’s not trivial that you are noticing this in Europe and the U.K. That is an unfortunate trend. I can understand why some youth, even though they are acting wrong, act in outright disrespectful ways to the cops. Youth are easy targets to intimidate.

  6. I linked to this post in yesterdays NW as I feel that Ian makes some valid points. However, as a cop about to retire from public service with nearly 38 years of “strapping on a cruiser”, I would point out that for every “bad cop” that you may encounter on the road there are 100 good ones who will bend over backwards to assist you when the need arises. If it is any consolation to those who feel the need to bash all for the sins of the few it may be helpful to know that the good cops become just as upset by the stupidity of their compatriots as the motoring public does. In point of fact these people are eventually weeded out and are assisted in finding alternate employment. To conclude, the phrase “walk a mile in my shoes” comes to mind. Until you have actually done the job and lived the life (which I would never recommend to anyone) it seems to me that “cop bashing” (while a highly entertaining sport) is counter-productive. There are better ways to deal with these types of situations.

    1. Jack, thanks very much for your comments. I appreciate that you, as a long time serving police officer took the time to respond.

      For the record, I worked in Law Enforcement for 15 years myself, arrested many a criminal, have been shot at once, have had attempts made to stab me, and very well know what attending domestic conflicts is like.

      I have walked beside many a foot patroller – and this is something I know a little bit about. I do know there are many many ‘good’ cops – unfortunately, I believe that the training and fundamental philosophy of the job in this country has moved way far away from Peel’s Principles.

      I also know that although the job carries risks – those risks are no more than say, a high rise construction worker as far as life and death and injury. It’s not like cops are dealing with bad guys 8 or 10 hours a shift. There’s PLENTY of downtime, and we all know that – totally unsupervised downtime when you’re free to do pretty much as you like.

      What disturbs me is the trends that I am seeing of many more officers taking an attitude that they are somehow not part of the public, different, better, entitled to treating folks with disdain.

      Yes… indeed.. there are those who do not do this, and yes, there are those that feel disturbed by the actions of others.. I’d like to see more of the good ones stand up, stop fearing the ‘blue wall’, and help provide some maturity to those others. Those others ARE increasing in numbers. And it disturbs me.

  7. There is the problem of the more jerk-cops you have, the more the courts treat all cops like jerks (hence causing endless problems of having cops spend masses of time in CYA duty) and cops being treated suspiciously -which only reinforces the bad sides of the “blue wall”.

    Of course the cops themselves aren’t the only problem, “community activists” throwing about spurious accusations, courts which refrain from throwing out spurious cases, and courts who open up the “revolving door” for felons, stupid laws… all contribute to cops getting a serious case of “us vs them”, and taking out their frustrations when they think they can.

    Chicken or egg?

    1. Fred, thanks for your comments. I know that being a cop can be a frustrating job. But that’s still no excuse for those would accept money from the public purse to act as many of them do, or to have the attitude that somehow, they are above the citizenry (See Peel’s Principles).

      Community activists groups aren’t the only ones throwing out spurious charges either.. many cops know how to lay spurious charges themselves, and too many of them get their kicks out of frustrating people just for the sake of it.

      And you know what? A community activist group’s spurious, general accusatations don’t come close to some citizen that has been charged or treated like a sub citizen by a police officer. That my friend, can not only ruin your day, but your life as well.

      I very much doubt that the recording of my personal experiences recently will ruin the lives of the police officers involved, do you?

  8. I was not trying to excuse the police Ian, and as it happens I share your concern and worry deeply.

    ( As part of worry about many things of that nature, having to do with our governments sticking their noses into tents where they don’t have any business. )

    Just pointing out in the spirit of fairness that cops do have their own set of problems that have grown swiftly too. Some of them are of their own making.

    Fred

  9. Thanks, Fred 🙂 So.. having these concerns as I do, what do you think is a response that is positive, a plan of action that we can embark upon towards change? I myself don’t know – although I have some thoughts and ideas.

    The fact is that people like you and I probably share the same goals as bad cops, many left wingers, and those who believe the government should stick their noses into our tents.

    I want to see less crime. I’d like to live in a more respectful society with respect for individuals. I’d like to see as many people as possible enjoy great health care (going off topic here). I love to see charitable humans. My goals and I’m sure your goals are similar. I just believe that Canadians are going about it, or hoping for the achievement of these goals in the wrong way, and in the end, are allowing our liberties to be trampled on without even realizing what is happening.

    Do you think there’s any hope that attitudes can be changed?

    1. You wrote: “Do you think there’s any hope that attitudes can be changed? ”

      Not without breaking the CBC’s quasi monopoly of public discourse and news.

      The CBC isn’t all bad by any means, but it has a “voice” and a corporate group think which it represents as “Canadian” and gives pretty short shrift to other voices. The CRTC reinforces this.

      In the case of police especially, I think you are on the right track with the “peelers” principles. Though I am not a cop, I have a cousin in the RCMP and some of things she’s told me leave me worried. In the States you see the same forces in action too.

      It’s been refered to as the militarization of law enforcement by some, and the attitudes implicit: “Dominate the Situation” and the like, aren’t necessarily appropriate (IMHO) most of the time. They drive already annoyed people crazy, and calm people to annoyance.

  10. I have little patience for the ineptitude of law enforcement, both in the U.S. and Canada. Part of the problem it seems to me is we pay cops the practical equivelant of MacDonald’s employees, then expect them to perform like lawyers. In truth they can barely grasp the fundamentals of the police 101.

    Pray you never have to be at the incompetent mercy of a police investigation.

    1. John, thanks for your comments – I’m not sure where you reside but here in Ontario, cops are not badly paid at all. With a salary of over 60,000.00 per year for a first class officer, and then add on court appearances and pay duties – they make more than some lousy lawyers! Certainly not a McDonald’s wage.

      1. I’m in the States, but I’ve lived in Quebec and Ontario…

        Ok, the McDonald’s thing was a poetic license thing… or an exaggeration thing.. or maybe just a blatant distortion-of-the-facts thing.

        So they’re incompetent and overpaid, even worse.

        Regards

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