Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime Dec. 17, 2008)


Public Apathy = A Pathetic Public


  By David Toner

When exactly did we all turn into such cowards? A recent article in the Victoria Times Colonist brought to light, the fact that the police are getting very little cooperation from the public in solving crimes. A “disturbing” lack of witnesses when crimes are committed is becoming more and more common, often causing police files to remain open, with no charges laid.

Police spokesperson, Sgt. Grant Hamilton, states “In a lot of these cases there are witnesses who know who is responsible but people are choosing not to come forward." Hamilton continued, "It makes our investigations very difficult and very time consuming."

A lengthy list of recent assaults, robberies and even murders was given, and in all cases witnesses who were present have chosen not to cooperate with police. Often this behaviour is seen with those involved in crime, who fear incriminating themselves. This latest trend is more bizarre, as ordinary citizens are simply choosing to look the other way. It does not appear that fear of any retaliation is the cause; it’s merely that people don’t want to be involved. Too self absorbed to care, or too apathetic to react?

Perhaps another factor is lack of confidence in the justice system in general. Too often people see offenders walk away from serious charges over a technicality, or receive a slap on the wrist sentence. This undermines the public’s confidence and brings the administration of justice into disrepute. Why bother to waste my time giving statements and going to court if there will be no real result, they think. This might also explain Stats Canada’s often cited ‘decreasing crime rates’ claims. Crime rates are not going down; people have just stopped reporting them. This failing of the system lies primarily at the feet of the judiciary, and must be addressed, before the public decides that alternate forms of justice are more effective.

There is some evidence that a growing disconnect between the public and the police may be an issue. Police officers today deal with a general lack of respect from the public that hampers their ability to build community trust. In an increasingly hostile environment, police have, by necessity, become more militaristic. Sadly, long gone are the days when Officer Friendly patrolled the downtown streets alone, waving at children and smiling at his neighbours. This is a sorry state for society to be in. Those good citizens who look the other way and pretend they saw nothing when called upon by the police will someday become victims of a crime, and then be outraged that nobody stands up for them, no one will bear witness in their defence.

What people don’t realize is that apathy is a disease; one that creeps into your life, like a cancer it gradually infects every part of your character. Let me give a relevant personal experience. My youngest son (12 years old) came home from school just yesterday very distraught. When I asked him about it he explained that the grade 7 students were being “sold” as a fundraising event at school, a type of “buy a buddy for a day” scenario. He was “purchased” for twelve dollars by a grade 6 student, who promptly hung a “kick me” sign on my sons back and invited passers by to kick him. The younger boy thought this was incredibly funny I’m sure, but my son didn’t.

Our son was kicked by his fellow students, made to feel small. He approached a lunch supervisor and told her this was wrong, and asked this adult for help. She shrugged her shoulders and dismissed his complaint, stating “They paid for you, so they can do what they want with you.” This is an example of the callous disregard for others and apathy that some of us have allowed to become part of our lives. We called the Principal this morning and filed a complaint, resulting in an apology from the youth involved, and disciplinary action against the staff member.

If you won’t speak up when something is wrong, who will? If you won’t cooperate with the lawful authorities in an investigation, are you not just another criminal? When we don’t care to be involved because it’s not us or our family that is being beaten, robbed, persecuted, etc., we start down a very slippery slope.

History is full of tragic examples of what can happen when those living in a civilized society lose their civility. We would all do well to consider this, and to remember that being a member of society means being socially responsible as well. I want to close this article with a very appropriate quote, one that should remind us all of this.

"Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you; fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers to walk safely on the earth."

Edward Yashinsky – Holocaust survivor.

 David Toner is President of Families Against Crime & Trauma (F.A.C.T.)



Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008