Sit and eavesdrop in any worn, linoleum floored coffee shop, anywhere in the grey haired parts of this Province, anywhere where you can find the blue wall retirees, and you will hear 20th century retired cop bitching about the present state of policing. The “good old days” is a tried and true theme with this coffee klatch audience, sagely nodding in agreement, or shaking their heads about the latest RCMP news tale. They lament the old times, when “men were men” or any other tired aphorism– in between the normal senior comparisons, about ill-health, urination, and the kids.
Was it all good then? No, it wasn’t. Was it fun? Yup, for the most part. But time heals and memories often become selective, making it easier to forget the alcoholism, the suicides, the divorces, and the inevitable creeping cynicism.
But as we march forward through 2019, it is clearly time to give over to the 21st century cop, to pass the baton or torch which was long held high. It is time for this generation of police to start ignoring the allegedly wise and learned 20th century cop. They are irrelevant, their stories are clearly of a different time, a time that will never be re-captured. It is time for the 20th century cop to let go, time to stay quiet. Nothing is being gained by bemoaning the passage of time.
Let’s consider some of the subtle and not so subtle differences.
The recruits of yester-year came from the Prairies, the Maritimes and the rural areas in between. They were often escaping life on a farm or on a fishing boat. The pay was irrelevant, the 19 year old wanted to get away. It was a steady job with a pension, yes, but more importantly it looked exciting and often a path out.
No real qualifications were needed. Strong backs more important than advanced matriculation. Ability to fight, withstand abuse and go through the door without questioning, were the valuable and lauded attributes.
The 21st century individual needs to question, in fact doesn’t understand why anything would go unchallenged. Their better educations tend to lead one to question and a greater appreciation for the grey area; no more the black and white of the 20th century where there was only right or wrong. It did seem simpler then.
The 20th century cops were physical specimens. As one neared graduation local Regina club goers knew not to take on the 5th and 6th month recruit. They were in the best shape of their lives but it was all down hill from there. In the 20th century the ability to fight was more valued than the 21st century Queens Silver Jubilee medal.
The 21st century cop is less physical, less the body builder, more the marathoner. The latest individuals leaving Depot or the Training Academy try to eat well, they “maintain”, drink tea rather than copious amounts of black coffee, go to yoga and are usually fitted in Nike or Adidas from head to toe. Their ball cap is always backwards. They pack their own lunches in neat compartmentalized lunch bags– no longer are they caught wolfing down the lasagna special at the Knight and Day at two in the morning.
Salaries were almost irrelevant to the 20th century cop, the government was presumed to be looking after them, so they rarely checked their pay cheques. They were never going to get rich, but they would always have a roof over their heads. Their economic goals were firmly middle working class.
The 21st century Mountie has greater expectations, they expect to live well, and often marry accordingly. Two vacations a year, two good vehicles, and eating out are regular activities, and with a little overtime can reach the upper echelons of society.
They are considering unionization, a possibility unheard of and demonized by the 20th century cop. The 20th century cop was more likely to be wearing a gas mask and holding plexiglass shields, breaking up union demonstrations, not organizing them.
Until the 1970’s police officers were only men. Think about that and one will begin to understand the uncomprehending looks, when trying to explain harassment, bullying and life in the blue bubble during the 20th century.
The 20th century female cop who appeared in the 1970’s had the most difficult job in policing, there should be no doubt. They were harassed and subject to intense bullying.
In the 21st century women have become hiring priorities and are now running the organizations that once could not comprehend them. They are now controlling the dialogue. “Inclusion” can be heard around the water cooler.
By the same measure the 20th century male cop was also abused; harassed as a matter of course, starting in Depot where the training syllabus depended on a strict regimen. The theory being that it could only make you tougher, it was just discipline. Trainers went to the Depot Pub to celebrate when one of the recruits “couldn’t take it” and had dropped out as a result of their abuse. A troop of 32 rarely graduated with all 32, at least two or three failed or quit, usually because the abuse and ridiculous punishments was not what they anticipated. It was part of the curriculum. No complaints were heard, but graduation meant that you beat them at their own game. You were now a “member”.
The 20th century cop who grew in this world does not understand the problem with harassment, doesn’t understand the definition of bullying growing up in this atmosphere of survival of the fittest. The 20th century cop admired the female officer who was “one of the boys”. The 20th century cop often did not abide or recognize the line where that behaviour became sexual, often based more out of ignorance than evil intent. When measured in the 21st century it was all wrong. When measured in the 20th century it was also wrong, but the perpetrators did not recognize it, abuse of their power and position, somehow an extension of a man’s right in a man’s world.
The 20th century cop talked to people. They didn’t like being in the office, where they could be encumbered by bosses and extra duties. The placement of computers in police cars was the key to bliss and the avoidance of the bosses. The 21 st century cop seems to enjoy the office, more socializing possible, the loneliness of a single person patrol car an anathema to this forever socially integrated group.
The 20th century cop avoided the press, the media were the enemy. Say nothing was the dogma. The 21st century cop has a full corps of media relations officers and knows to include media considerations in the investigational process. Twitter launches before police have even got to the crime in many cases. All 21st century cops are aware of cameras.
The 20th century cop had no awareness of “career”. They depended on assessments by their peers and the passage of time to lead to promotion. All in due time and they expected to ride a police car for many years. The 21st century cop who has been exposed to early promotions plans on only a few years in the “harness” and have preconceived notions as to what rung of the ladder they should have reached. The first promotion to Corporal for the 20th century copy was often fifteen to twenty years, they were part of the baby boomer bubble. Coming behind the bubble the 21st century cop is promoted much earlier, sometimes as early as five years.
The 20 century road cop was surrounded by experienced officers, it was not uncommon to have many officers holding twelve or fifteen years of service. The 21st century road cop averages about eighteen months service. Guidance for them is almost non-existent. Even the newly minted bosses sometimes have less seven or eight years service.
The 20th century cop started off with a Sam Browne holster, a .38 revolver constantly swivelling about on his hip, a couple of plastic holders for a trusted yellow plastic flashlight, and maybe a baton. When they got pepper spray issued, they used it more on themselves while horsing around then they did on any contrite suspects.
The 21st century cop carries the 9mm, extra handcuffs, pepper spray, gloves, a taser, a collapsible baton, a radio hearing bud, mechanical tools, and a carbine rifle. There are no more foot chases, nor any such thing as a roomy police car.
That .38 revolver rarely came out of its holster. Most 20th century cops were not going to shoot anyone for erratic behaviour, or disobeying their commands to comply. If there were no other options, it was going to get physical. The 21st century cop believes in a circle of safety surrounding them that can not be breached.
When confronted with violence, the 21st century cop turns to escalating levels of tools while the 20th century cop takes off his watch, not wanting to cause any damage to the watch his or her kids gave them. They anticipated violence, but first try to figure out how to try and talk to the individual. The bad guy was allowed the first swing. Rarely were there charges for assault of a police officer if there was a fight and just as rarely would there be a complaint about assaultive behaviour.
The 20th century cop has no conception of the approach undertaken by four officers at the Vancouver airport, where a single male threatened them with a stapler. The 21st century members in this case did not hesitate to go to their tool belt to avoid a physical confrontation. If they had wrestled the man to the ground the 20th century cop may also have inadvertently caused the man to have a heart attack– but there would not have been the same toll. Nobody would have gone to jail.
The current spate of complaints against police is a glaring and often abusive example of the 20th century cop being held to 21st century management. The vast majority of the cases which are hitting the public eye and seem examples of brutality or ill-advised police decisions are often just the result of two completely different mind sets, 20th vs 21st.
The 20th century cop is continually being exposed by cell phone video technology, no matter the level of the confrontation. The 21st cop is always aware of being watched.
The 20th century cop wanted to be able to type, and often wrestled with carbon copies and with a ham fist pounded the typewriter keys. The 21st century cop knows “apps”. “There is an app for that” may have become the mission statement.
The 20th century cop talks to the neighbours at the scene of a crime, the 21st century cop asks if there is any video. In this new age; if there is no DNA, or no video, there is no crime.
In the 20th century the Operational Manual was a “guideline”.
In the 20th century there was the Blue Wall. No more, as brick by brick it has been dismantled. There is no concept of a blue wall being acceptable in the 21st century.
In the 20th century cops were held in high public esteem, a positive element of society, a black and white answer in the non-political world of policing.
The 21st century cop is political, forced there by social media and the new 180 character journalism.
The old school guy or girl rising through the ranks replaced by the politically correct, where you are recognized for your identity and gender as much as your resume. It is no individual’s fault, it is just accepted as being a better way.
In public, the 20th century cop stands erect, Ray-Bans in place with a stern demeanour. The 21st century cop is often seen dancing or marching in the latest cause parade. They both still look ridiculous.
So where does this leave us?
In the Venn diagram of 20th and 21st century policing the area of congruence is becoming smaller and smaller. The commonalities are disappearing. Neither side is right or wrong, they are just different.
Policing has not changed, the police are still the medium between the interactions of people. You are still trying to discern right from wrong, Your principles should still be your guide. In the end, it is no more complicated than that.
So here is to the 21st century cops, assiduously working to “maintens le droit”.
It is indeed a new world, full of both the same and different problems.
Learn from history, but ignore the old silver backs chirping on the sidelines like Statler and Waldorf, as they wander in search of the early-bird special.
Listen to their stories out of respect, but make your own stories, and enjoy the ride. We did.
Photo courtesy of Dennis Sylvester Hurd via Flickr Commons – Some rights reserved