Prime Time Crime

 

(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Mar.  9, 2009)

 
Inquiry shows police at their worst
   

  By John Martin

In the past decade Iíve probably penned more than a hundred columns that in some way supported or defended law enforcement. The herd mentality with which many politicians, lawyers and members of the media are so quick to trash police has always disgusted me. In my experience, the most rabid criticism of police has come from ignorant muckrakers who know nothing about the job or circumstances which police must operate within.

It seems there is a reluctance to extend to police the same presumption of innocence that is granted to everyone else. Police are routinely convicted in the court of public opinion long before theyíre given an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

Critics, who often donít have a clue about force options or threat assessment, are infamously quick to accuse police of over reacting and responding disproportionately to incidents. Far too often police have been subjected to brutal criticism only to later be completely vindicated for alleged wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, the tasering of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007 isnít going to be one of these types of incidents. The story police documented in their notes and told to investigators is about as far from reality as one could get. The officers insisted Dziekanski raised the stapler high and swung it at them, screaming. As the video makes abundantly clear, nothing of the sort happened. According to three of the police officers involved, Dzienkanski had to be wrestled to the ground after the taser deployment failed to floor him. Absolute rubbish - he collapsed after one hit. Sadly though, without the video we would have been left only with the officersí preposterous stories.

Anyone can get their facts mixed up somewhat in the heat of the excitement. But the discrepancies between what the police claimed and what actually happened are atrocious. We are either dealing with a level of incompetence that is a national embarrassment and international disgrace or a blatant lack of honesty and integrity. Take your pick. Either is unacceptable.

How many times have these officers read from their notes in court and it was taken for granted that there was some inherent degree of accuracy and forthrightness in their version of the sequence of events? How many people have been convicted in hearings in which these officers gave sworn testimony?

Police have extraordinary powers and for the most part, have enjoyed exceptional support from the Canadian public. But that public trust is under enormous strain today.

The actual tasering incident suggests, at the very least, significant review of tactical training and policy. But even if all five deployments of the taser can be justified, the inconsistencies between what we know happened and officersí versions of events are most troubling. The Dzienkansi incident is not quite on the scale of Rodney King. But it would appear to similarly symbolize a crisis in confidence in law enforcement as we know it.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at John.Martin@ucfv.ca

 

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