Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Jan 26, 2009)


Tough times ahead for police


  By John Martin

Thereís nothing like a bunch of out-of-control cops to get people talking. The allegations that three off-duty, municipal police beat up and robbed a newspaper delivery driver in Vancouver is probably the last thing law enforcement needed at this time.

Already under siege for a number of impaired driving incidents, the policing community is on the defensive once more. And this all comes amidst much criticism that police are using their tasers too soon, too often and for too long.

Before jumping to conclusions itís important to note the latest incident is, at this writing, a mere allegation that has yet to be substantiated. Police, while understandably held to a higher standard of behaviour than the rest of us, are fully entitled to the same presumption of innocence that everyone else is so quick to cling to. Still, the presence of several eye witnesses and a video surveillance camera suggests this could get ugly.

I actually think though, that regardless of what comes of this allegation, we should expect more unprofessional conduct and unacceptable shenanigans involving police. In short, police agencies are not attracting the same quality of candidates in the same numbers they used to. As recently as a decade ago, dozens of highly qualified applicants competed for every police position that came available. Today, administrators are at their witsí end trying to attract desirable candidates.

When I started teaching criminology courses twenty-something years ago, the majority of the class, including the highest performing students, was always seriously interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. Today itís rare that more than a handful of people in a class are considering police work. I still see some outstanding students going this route, but theyíre nowhere near as common as they once were.

No police administrator will publicly admit it, and for good reason, but policing just isnít attracting the same number of high achievers it once did. There are too many safer, less stressful ways to make the same income and much of the allure of the profession has gone by the wayside. To be blunt about it - police recruiters are settling for less; they have little choice these days.

The perception, and itís a valid one, is that the courts tend to release offenders back onto the streets faster than police can arrest them. Itís quite understandable that potential applicants may reconsider a career in policing if it means working in such a frustrating and dysfunctional environment.

Never ending assaults on the police by media and political commentators have also taken their toll. Even Wally Oppal recently ripped a strip off the police, suggesting they ďscrew up on a daily basis.Ē If this is the level of support and confidence the police can expect from the provinceís Attorney General, itís little wonder many people, however well-suited, want nothing to do with the profession.

Again, no police official can publicly concede that standards arenít what they once were or that the overall quality of applicants has slipped. Privately though, this is one of the major frustrations and challenges. People who would have been screened out during the early stages of the hiring process a decade ago are now being offered positions.

Returning to the days when police departments were overwhelmed with applications from hundreds of first rate candidates may be possible. Realistically though, I donít see it happening until the justice system has been seriously reformed and the valuable contributions made by law enforcement arenĎt constantly undermined by other players in the system.

But these things just arenít on the table at this point.

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


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009