(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 13, 2002)

 

Don't blame cops for deaths

By Leo Knight

WHY are the good guys being painted by the media as the bad guys?

 

And why are the real bad guys not being apportioned the blame for what they in fact are responsible for? I'm confused.

 

The latest example of this was in Friday's Vancouver Province. An opinion piece heaped a cart-load of blame on the police for street deaths from both street racing and police pursuits.

 

The tone for the piece was set in the first sentence: "Do the police need to be hit on the head with a hammer - or a criminal court's gavel - before they'll heed Canadian citizens cries for change?"

 

Very melodramatic, yes. But, really, a majority of Canadian citizens, I'd wager, are a whole lot more concerned about the criminals being given carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want without fear of police action or societal retribution.

 

What about the car thieves and the street racers? Why aren't they shouldering the responsibility here? They are the bad guys, not the cops.

 

The police have changed their rules of engagement considerably over the past few years despite what weepy left-wing media types would have you believe. Police procedures relating to high-speed chases have been under almost constant review since at least the mid 1970s when I started in policing.

 

Their abilities to fight back against the bad guys have been dramatically curtailed. Today, little street punks steal cars and go looking for police to taunt, knowing they won't bother because the chase will be called off before they travel more than a block or two.

 

So the cops shrug and keep their heads down as some street thug with an attitude that really, really needs to be kicked out of him, lights up the tires of the car he's just stolen in a smoking challenge to the keepers of the law of the land. Now, do you suppose for a moment that Canadian citizens are crying out for this type of behaviour?

 

In the middle of the Province's column, after speculating wildly that the RCMP in Surrey may have been chasing a speeding vehicle involved in an injury accident, is the following: "B.C. has lost its share of young people to high speed car races - and high speed police chases. Indeed, between 1998 and 2000 five teens aged 16 or 17 died as a result of collisions involving police pursuits according to a report by B.C. Children's Commission released last week. The panel found police followed 'current procedures in all of the cases.' But I wonder."

 

Wondering? What was the writer wondering? Was she thinking that the B.C. Children's Commission suddenly decided to protect the police? This is getting very complicated now. I was a whole lot more comfortable with the "police shouldn't investigate themselves" argument. I didn't agree, but at least I could see the position.

 

While it is certainly a tragedy when any innocent person dies, does it make any sense to turn over the streets to the criminals? Isn't it anarchy when the rule of law no longer applies?

 

Bad guys will continue to steal cars and hurtle around the streets at death-defying speeds until they are stopped, one way or another. Because there is a risk should we say it's OK for them to do it?

 

I have said this before in this space and I will say it again: The police do not go looking for a chase to get into. It is very scary, perhaps one of the most terrifying things a police officer can do. In a high-speed pursuit, everything, even if it is going in the same direction as you, is oncoming traffic. It is an incredibly risky part of the job. The difference is that the police are prepared to take the risk to their own lives in an effort to protect ours.

 

If members of the media want to add something useful in this discussion, perhaps someone could endorse the addition of a police chopper in the air 24/7 to provide the good guys with an alternative to surrender.

 

Veteran journalist with Radio Station 630 CHED in Edmonton, Bob Layton, did exactly that more than a year ago with Project SOS to get community and business support for a police helicopter in his city. That city, less than a third the size of Greater Vancouver has their helicopter in the air right now. So does Calgary, Toronto and even Peel Regional Police in Ontario, for that matter.

 

In Edmonton all of the money to obtain the chopper and fuel and maintain it was raised by Project SOS and reported on weekly by Layton. The police have committed the manpower to staff the aircraft as their contribution.

 

The police, the media and the community in Edmonton didn't see surrendering the streets as an option. Why should we?  

 

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