Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Nov.  23, 2008)

Dispersing the Nonsense

By Bob Cooper



I just finished reading Paul Palango’s latest book, Dispersing the Fog – Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP.  If Assistant Commissioner Bass is reading this, don’t worry Gary, I shoplifted it. 

My take on the book is that it says much more about the deep-rooted culture of corruption in Ottawa that it does about the RCMP.  The RCMP are simply victims of this culture and a couple of former Commissioners who sold them in to it.  Their price?  The title ‘Deputy Minister’ in the federal government.  I’d sooner have the title ‘Pedophile’ but that’s just me.  That the RCMP continues to function at all despite the political subjugation is a testament to those in the front lines.

I won’t dwell on Palango’s direct criticism of the RCMP because I have a lot of friends in the Force both serving and retired and I still want to be served in the Mess.  I used the word ‘Force’ because that is how members of the RCMP still refer to it and it brought to mind a passage in the book that is very germane to law enforcement agencies across Canada.  It can be found on pages 480 and 481 and concerns the history of the New South Wales Police, the oldest and largest law enforcement agency in Australia.

Originally called the New South Wales Police Force, its name was changed in 1990 to the New South Wales Police Service to reflect the new concept of ‘community policing’.  In 2002, the word Service was dropped from the title and in 2006 the New South Wales Police became known again as the New South Wales Police Force.  As Palango describes it “In New South Wales, the message is clear – the police are not afraid to advertise exactly what their job is and the criminals know what they are up against”.  Refreshing.

Palango described ‘community policing’ as “the fad of the day in democratic countries around the world” and Canada was no exception.  The most popular buzz-words and phrases used by new and prospective Chief Constables were “Community-Based Policing”, “Partnerships”, “Stakeholders” and “I’m going to run this Department like a business”.  Then they’d run out and change the agency’s name from Force or Department to ‘Service’ and come up with a Big Idea.  I’m not against education but some of the scariest bosses I’ve ever known were those with MBAs.

The police are not a business.  They are there to protect life and property.  Their duties are set out in the Criminal Code, certain other Federal and Provincial statutes, and Common Law.  The closest the Vancouver Police ever came to being a business was during the annual promotion competitions.  With irrelevant criteria, ‘flavor of the month’ flaky management theories, secret deals, bogus resumes, and looking after friends and insiders, it bore a certain resemblance to Enron but that’s about it.

The first Big Idea I remember was Team Policing in the late 70s.  The VPD was geographically reorganized so that each Team area conformed to that of the Provincial Social Services Ministry or whatever it was called at the time.  The traditional ‘3 Shifts’ were scrapped and each Team area was ‘empowered’ to act like its own little fiefdom.  This was touted as the cure for all of the city’s ills and a lot of careers were made on it.  No criticism was tolerated and anyone who so much as dared to question the Big Idea  was taken out behind Oakridge sub-station and stoned to death by a frenzied mob of newly-minted Corporals drunk with the Team Policing kool-aid.

Team Policing gave way to new and improved Big Ideas like Community-Based Policing, The Strategic Plan, and other colossal wastes of time, energy, and money.   Again, a lot of promotions were made on each of these enterprises, but I never actually met anyone who could explain the purpose or benefit of any of them.  I recall asking one of Community-Based Policing backers what the difference was between this program and what we did every day walking our beats.  He gave me that same look I used to get from my school teachers, sort of a cross between pity, astonishment, and condescension, and told me there was much more to it than that.  An hour later I was more confused than ever.  I asked when he was going to get to the part about locking up criminals and he looked at me like I had two heads.  I lost track of him but heard he moved South and was shilling for Fannie Mae.  Much like NDP governments, when each Big Idea was discarded you couldn’t find anyone in the building who would actually admit to voting for it.

Know where the Big Ideas are now?  I’d like to say in history’s dust-bin of law enforcement failures but I rather suspect there’s a secret vault in Planning & Research where they store these things for two or three decades then bring them out, dust them off, and re-name them when everyone has forgotten and a new round of promotions are due.

When I joined, the VPD had a reputation coast to coast as good, aggressive policemen who went out each night and caught crooks.  We were proud of that.  We were the police and that was our job.  The only ‘inside jobs’ were the Report Center and the Jail and most of the guys assigned there were Recruits, Light Duties, or those being punished.

Somewhere along the line we lost our bearings and our sense of purpose.  Instead of working with social agencies we tried to become them.  The ‘softer’, ‘gentler’ approach became all the rage.  Officers became ‘managers’ and street cops became ‘practitioners’.  Administrative sections grew by leaps and bounds and consumed manpower like Pac-Man until Operations became a pimple on the ass of Administration.

The public’s expectations of the police are really simple.  The housewife wants to see a radio car pass down her street on a regular basis.  The downtown store owner wants the reassurance of seeing the beatmen pass the front of his shop every hour or so.  When prevention fails they want quick response times and aggressive follow-up investigations.  Those are the basics and we haven’t done them in years.  If we can’t even do that, we shouldn’t be trying to do anything fancier and we certainly shouldn’t call it Service.


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