Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times week of Dec. 1, 2008)


A silver lining - sort of


  By John Martin

Without a doubt these are among the most difficult times for policing in many years. Yet another B.C. police officer is facing charges for impaired driving, bringing the number to four such incidents in the last while. Clearly the notion of those sworn to uphold the law allegedly breaking it in such reckless fashion is troubling. Given the countless awareness campaigns and counter-attack programs, itís almost inconceivable to imagine that police officers wouldnít get the message that theyíre so very much a part of.

The latest incident involves an off-duty Vancouver Police Department member who was pulled over when another off-duty member saw his car weaving and alerted police. This comes on the heels of a RCMP officer who was recently arrested for drunk driving causing death following a crash that killed a 21-year-old man in Delta. Meanwhile, a North Vancouver RCMP member and a New Westminster City Police officer face impaired driving charges in a couple of other unrelated incidents. Obviously, the optics are not good here.

But, as is often the case, there is a silver lining in all this. The fact that four police officers have been hit with impaired charges demonstrates that police are not above the law and their co-workers arenít playing favourites. Other than the fatal motor vehicle accident, it would have been quite easy to cover up these incidents. In the old days it wasnít unheard of for a police officer to extend professional courtesy to another officer in similar situations. An officer could allow an impaired colleague to park his or her car and call a cab. An on-duty police officer could drive a co-worker whoís over the limit home and no one would know a thing about it. A 24-hour suspension could be issued rather than proceeding with formal charges.

Turning in a co-worker has to be a troubling moment in any police officerís career. There is a unique camaraderie in policing that most civilians will never fully appreciate. How many of us ever have to depend on our co-workers for, not just our physical safety, but in some instances, our very lives? Getting someone to cover your appointments when youíre stuck in traffic is a far cry from relying on back up when entering a situation involving dangerous people who may be armed. Given the unique dynamics that characterize policing, the temptation to look the other way must be overwhelming, even when a colleague has done wrong.

Weíve seen time and time again how the public school system has protected teachers accused of behaviour much more serious than impaired driving. Even when administrators have known about abuse they have often quietly shuffled the offending teacher to another district. Lawyers are notorious for circling the wagons to protect a colleague accused of inappropriate actions. The same holds true for doctors and other professionals.

There are obviously no excuses for police officers to be caught driving over the limit. But the very fact that a handful have been caught says much about the integrity and professionalism of those officers who treated their colleagues the same as anyone else.

Despite a number of troubling issues facing police these days, this is most encouraging and demonstrates law enforcement is still more than worthy of our confidence.

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


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008