I remember very vividly when I was a young fellow how much the police seemed to be a part of the community. When I was in high school, I had a weekend job in a restaurant that often saw me walking home about 2 a.m., and more times than not I would see an officer walking the beat; to exchange brief nods of hello was not unknown. Since then, much rhetoric about community policing notwithstanding, it seems that police, ensconced in their cruisers, hidden away by body armour and increasingly presented as a paramilitary presence, that connection with the community seems to be quite frayed and in many instances lost.
Today, it would seem, police in many jurisdictions seem more intent on stilling fear than in inculcating trust. Says Michael Spratt, a Canadian legal expert,
"... there’s no question that Canadian police sometimes look more like post-apocalyptic military mercenaries than protectors of the peace. Our police services have been acquiring more and more military toys — a dangerous trend that’s gotten little in the way of critical analysis in the mainstream media."
Growing numbers of Canadian police agencies have acquired armored vehicles in recent years. In 2010 the Ottawa Police Service bought a Lenco G3 BearCat armored personnel carrier for $340,000, which has "half-inch-thick military steel armoured bodywork, .50 caliber-rated ballistic glass, blast-resistant floors, custom-designed gun ports and... a roof turret."
The G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 showed that the militarization of protest policing is not only occurring in the United States. Police used a sound cannon, or Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) -- a weapon that was developed for use in conflicts in the Middle East, as well as barricades, pre-emptive arrests and riot units.
The Lenco BearCat Armored Personnel Carrier
According to Kevin Walby, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, "the more interesting aspect of the militarization of the police is actually on the strategy side"; police are "increasingly training with military-style tacticians, especially when it comes to situations like crowd control and, increasingly, surveillance."
And yet police seem deeply offended that their motives are increasingly being impugned as more and more stories of their abuse of citizens emerge, and it becomes increasingly evident that those who should be controlling them, police services boards, are rarely showing the backbone to challenge their thuggery.
The authorities will just have to learn to live with public criticism and condemnation. As the following two letters from The Star make clear, it is wholly justified:
No excuse for violent police assault, Letters Nov. 23
Unfortunately this result of interaction between police forces and the public is becoming increasingly prevalent – perhaps a direct result of the justice system’s seemingly complacent attitude towards it. It is further aggravated by a change in attitude amongst the police forces with respect to the image they choose to project.
In my youth a typical police officer was neatly dressed, clean shaven and noticeably respectful of the public they served. I can point to the police force serving my community as an example of the changes made to that image. Their staff, both civilian and constabulary seems to have been infused with an attitude of disdain for the public.
The officer of my youth has been replaced with an outwardly authoritarian figure sporting one of those closely trimmed “macho” beards to augment his display of tattoos. No longer is he dressed down, but openly displays his array of offensive weaponry topped off with body armour portraying an image of intimidation and fear rather than being ready to be of assistance.
Disappearing are the white cruisers with red and blue identification; replaced by black and white vehicles – again with the connotation of intimidation. The supposedly “unmarked” vehicles are dark gray “muscle” cars complete with deeply tinted windows and black rims. All this helps to instill an image of fear of the police in the public’s eye and I believe that is exactly what is intended.
Some serious training in public relations would certainly seem warranted. The phrase “respect must be earned” was never more appropriate.
Don Macmillan, Oakville
The video of this incident was brutal as well as shocking. The police, whose motto is “To serve and protect,” are doing neither. Three officers are seen punching a defenceless man who is face-down on the ground. They continue their assault as the victim pleads with them to stop, to no avail.
In the end, the man is placed in a cruiser for a time, then released without any charges being laid.
This incident is not being investigated by the SIU because there were no “serious” injuries incurred by the victim.
These officers are emulating some of their American counterparts who have been seen on video shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the back, and choking another unarmed man, to name a couple of similar instances of police brutality.
If three citizens assaulted someone in this manner, they would be charged and jailed. Because this involves police officers, it will probably be “swept under the rug.”
Already the police are preparing for this process by refusing to release the names of those officers who were involved.
Warren Dalton, Scarborough