Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive March 31, 2015)

Broken Windows Theory


By Bob Cooper

Newsrooms across the city were falling all over themselves yesterday showing a video (VPD Sergeant) of a Vancouver Police Sergeant smashing the car window of a drug suspect who, despite repeated warnings and being told he was under arrest, refused to lower the window and get out of the carAfter dramatic ‘Breaking News’ introductions preceding the video, some were honest enough to acknowledge that the incident occurred last November and the driver was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance, Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking (indicating a sizeable quantity), and Obstructing a Police Officer.  Despite the attempt by some outlets to portray the Sergeant’s actions as gratuitous vandalism, the driver has never filed a complaint.  He also refused all requests from media outlets to comment making him a little wiser and more risk-averse than the CBC News ‘legal expert’ who pronounced the Sergeant’s actions unlawful.  Basing a professional opinion on a few seconds of video which captures a tiny portion of an incident can easily prove embarrassing when more video or witnesses surface later on. 

As far as telling the driver why he is being detained, unless they’ve made a major change to the Motor Vehicle Act, a constable may stop any motor vehicle being operated on any highway in British Columbia and demand that the driver produce a valid driver’s licence and proof of insurance and he doesn’t need a reason to do so.  This started off as these things often do, with a traffic stop.  If, in the course of this stop, the officer finds the odor of liquor or marihuana wafting from the vehicle then you’ve got a whole new situation and, as the video shows, that’s exactly what the driver was told. 

This is a classic example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.  The Bodhi Sattva’s of this world are always willing to give cops a free, unsolicited tutorial on their rights but they usually get their legal training from the ex-convict sitting next to them in the beer parlor, someone’s cousin who took a basic law class at community college, or those ‘What to do if you’re stopped by the police’ cards that the Pivot Legal Society passes out. 

The amount of misinformation and outright falsehoods floating around out there is incredible and cops hear it every day.  “You can’t search me until my attorney gets here”, “I don’t have to show you my license until you tell me why you pulled me over”, “You can’t arrest me because you don’t have your hat on”, or the famous (and often alcohol-fuelled) last words “I know my rights and I’m not going anywhere”.  They all display the same stunned look of astonishment and disbelief as they’re going into the wagon.  Walking or head-first.  Your choice. 

Out on the street the cops aren’t there to debate you.  The parsing of words and splitting of hairs occurs later in court.  If the situation permits, they will listen to whatever explanation you may offer but when useful dialogue has run its course the discussion is over.  For those whose cognitive skills could use some sharpening, this point is usually signaled by the cop telling you so, the brandishing of handcuffs, or, in this case, the sound of breaking glass.  The first thing the police have to do when they arrive at a scene is to ensure they have control of the situation.  Sometimes circumstances require that the laying on of hands occurs first and explanations and Charter Rights are given second. 

The lesson to be learned here is that when a policeman tells you that you’re under arrest, you’re under arrest and any illusions you may harbor to the contrary are usually quickly shattered. 

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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