The academics who study the police, whether they be criminologists or sociologists, all seem to agree that there have been three different “eras” in the history of policing. The three are differentiated, primarily by the level of interaction between police and the government bodies which oversee them.
There was a period from 1840-1930, the time in which most police services as we know them today came into being. This is referred to as the “political era”. A period of close ties between the police and the politicians, a period of time which because of this closeness, this lack of power separation, was rife with corruption. The second era has been called the “professionalism/reform” era, when the police preached about and brought policies in designed to end political cronyism. Whether they managed to achieve this goal is disputable.
In a study of the Los Angelas Police Department done by Gerry Woods, he points to the fact that few gains were achieved from the movement away from the political machine run police departments during the transition and into the “professional and independent era”. This was due he argues that what in effect happened was that the power of the police shifted from being controlled by the politicians to the police becoming political themselves. This transformation was aided and pushed by the formation of unions, police beginning to voice their support for political candidates, and the various issue led lobbying efforts of the police during this time period.
The third era, the one in which we find ourselves now, is the “community policing” era. The theme to this phase was of course that the police became one with the community, the people who live in that community, and therefore were to reflect the concerns and needs of that community. At least in theory.
Throughout all of these time periods though, the police have always stated the goal was police autonomy, the need for a separation from the politicians. The police were not to be restrained by government nor be given direction. The arguments for this goal were three fold, and fairly obvious– that political involvement of the police was in and of itself unnecessary, that political involvement by the police endangered police legitimacy, and finally, that political participation by the police was in fact dangerous to democracy.
In 1829 Sir Robert Peel echoed these beliefs in his “rules of policing”, and these rules formed the bedrock of many policing agencies set up in North America over the past century. Rule #2 of his rule book was that the police had to “secure and maintain public respect”. Rule #5 stated that the police needed to “demonstrate absolute impartial service to the law” and not by “pandering to public opinion”. Rule #7 and likely the most consistently quoted was that the “police are the public and the public are the police”.
In Canada and for the most part, throughout the rest of the world, there has been this police dictate, especially when front facing the general public, to extoll and “protect the rhetoric of independence”. This has been done despite the indisputable logistical fact that the police are by necessity almost always in structure, and in practise, acting as part of the executive arm of government.
R. Reiner in writing on “The Politics of the Police” says that “all relationships which have a power dimension are political”. Margaret Beare agrees in a paper titled “The History and the Future of Politics of Policing” and states that there is in fact the undeniable truth that there is always a “normalized state of control by government officials”. She goes on to say and point out though that the trouble begins or “the difficulty arises when the police are complicit”.
In other words when the police begin to play or aid in the political process, problems undoubtedly arise. Reiner says likewise, but that it is for most part hidden from easy observation, and that “the political direction to police operational decisions may only be seen when something goes wrong”.
The point of this is that in the last number of months, things have indeed gone wrong, and our police and political leaders are now being fully exposed. The effect is that it is now serving to discredit and embarrass the day to day officers. Likewise, the credibility of the police has been grievously wounded and the road to restoring that credibility is going to be a long one.
The two most obvious examples of political and police collusion are obviously the events of Portapique Nova Scotia and the imposition of the Emergencies Act by the Federal Liberals. Both events have inadvertently turned a spotlight on this political and police incestuous relationship.
In Portapique, Lucki was conspiring with Blair and his cronies to use the largest mass killing in Canada to political advantage. They wanted to turn the suspects use of certain types of weapons into an advertisement in support for an upcoming gun ban legislation. Blair and Trudeau wanted to extoll their images of champions of safety and security, heroically saving us from any future mass killings. The backroom political control over the Commissioner of the RCMP to do their bidding has now been exposed. Her plaintive cries of frustration in not being able to deliver for the Prime Minister and Blair can only be called embarrassing. An embarrassment but also a warning for those who strive for neutrality and objectivity in the enforcement of the law.
This exposed subservience by the Commissioner was followed by the circumstances now being examined by the current commission into the imposition of the Emergencies Act. Academically it has been pointed out that when the government feels threatened, legitimately or not, policing becomes solely political. Crimes that fall into the realm of national security are to a great extent almost always left up to the police and the politicians to define, and it is done in an arena of secrecy. In the Commission hearings, that veil has now been pulled back, exposing the use of the Emergencies Act as a political tool, that was used against Canadians who did not fit the Liberal demographic. How is it possible to not question the motives of Lucki in defending the imposition of the Act?
The former Ottawa City Police Chief, Chief Slolty could sling the terminology of the liberal left, but he was quite inept at playing the game, unable to appease the head of the Ottawa Police Service Police Board. It seems apparent that once one has become ensconced in the political machinery, the one and only goal, and one not learned by the Chief, seems to be the need to appease. This current blend of high level police executives, across the board, have been fully complicit in the political game. They are in their positions because of a willingness to reflect the political will and support the policies that emanate from it, no matter how counter-intuitive to policing needs. The long held policing principles of autonomy is far from their collective minds.
On a more local level a more recent example of a political police executive not “reading the room” is Chief Adam Palmer of the Vancouver Police Department. In December 2019, two officers, Canon Wong and Mitchell Tong attended to a call to a bank where the bank was calling to say that they believed there were two individuals there, using fraudulent indigenous status cards to obtain funds. The officers, walked the pair, Maxwell Johnson and his 13 year old grand-daughter outside of the bank, on to the sidewalk, handcuffed them, and then began to ask them questions. It turned out that the status cards were valid, and the pair were released. There was of course a complaint about these now deemed racist officers for handcuffing them and the embarrassment that it caused. Now, I would be the first to say that this seems like a bit like officer safety run amok when it comes to the handcuffing. However, it was not an offence or a breach of regulations, but merely some bad judgement in reading the scene. And the Police Act review came to the same conclusion and recommended that the officers simply apologize, which they did to the family personally and even writing a letter of apology.
However, along came the political police masters, eager to appease the social media and indigenous outcry, and the BC Human Rights Commission. Clearly, they opined, evidence of “systemic racism”. So a “settlement” with the family was reached. This civilian Police Board settlement included; “confidential damages” to the Johnson family, $100,000 to the Heiltsuk’s First Nation restorative justice department which will go to programming for at-risk girls; and an agreement that the Board will create a “position for anti-indigenous racism office or officer”. They also agreed to have these particular officers attend an “apology ceremony” in Bella Bella, where the officers would apologize in a public ceremony in front of the Band members. The officers were un-involved nor did they agree to this Board settlement clause.
Faye Whitman of the Police Board was all in and so was Chief Palmer, who has previously voiced the opinion and thus committed to the fact that there was “systemic discrimination and racism within law enforcement”. So Whitman and the Chief attended to remote Bella Bella, in fact they came bearing “gifts” — “feast bowls” for the leaders of the Band. The officers themselves refused to go for “personal reasons” but it was more likely that they did not want to go this version of a “show-trial”.
Global News had already been alerted, no doubt by the Indigenous, and were in full attendance waiting for the officers to humbly appear, as the anticipated appearance was for them looking to be a hard to resist television moment. When the officers did not show, the media was upset, and it seems obvious that they and the Indigenous then staged a dramatic return of the “gifts” to Chief Palmer– as he sheepishly sat in the audience. He was then chased out of the auditorium to get his response.
In the end, Chief Palmer and the Police Board did irreparable harm to their reputation among the ranks of the police. The settlement reached by the Board for this “infraction” by the two officers was over the top, and now the leader of the Board and the Police chief were caught in the camera lights playing to those same politics. It could not have been more obvious. The officers did the right thing by not attending. The Band and Mr. Johnson say they still need “closure” and want the officers to come sometime in the future. It could not get more ridiculous.
Chief Palmer will likely be rewarded by his political uppers for his “progressive” stance, but in terms of the persons he is under oath to lead, he has severely wounded his credibility and will be a long time in recovering. He played politics and it came with a cost.
So where does this leave us? Is there a pendulum effect in play here? Are we ever going to reach some middle ground where the police busy themselves with the job of enforcing the laws of this country, in a neutral and unbiased way, or are the police executives going to continue to play in the woke sandbox? It is clear that they are not very good at it, they keep getting dirt in their eyes.
As I get ready to post this blog, the latest revelations from the Commission is that the Convoy protestors had various police individuals inside the OPP, the Ottawa Police service, and even CSIS “leaking” them information. If true, the police were also now playing politics on a ground level which should be seen as being equally dangerous to the credibility of the police in the eyes of the public. One can only hope that somewhere, sometime, someone comes to their senses.
Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons by Beauty False – Some Rights Reserved