Policing in the Age of perpetual offense


By Bob Cooper

Oscar winning Screen Actor Charlton Heston once said that political correctness is just tyranny with manners.  Fast forward a generation or two and you’ve still got the tyranny but the manners are long-gone.  Replaced with ‘safe spaces’, ‘micro-aggressions’, and ‘dog whistles’.  Dogma that uses denunciation, distortion, and smear to destroy those they disagree with by making their every utterance an act of Hate Speech in order that they be cast out as lepers.  But for the decency of a group of law students it might have claimed a very good policeman this week.

S/Sgt. Bill Clark has been a larger than life figure in the Edmonton Police Homicide Unit for years.  During that time he’s worked any number of high-profile cases (Google Mark Twitchell) and cleared most of them.  Bill was popular with the local press because he took the time to talk to them and they could always count on a catchy quote at a murder scene.

Bill is the kind of guy who makes the bosses nervous every time he steps in front of the cameras but who they’re all secretly thankful for because he can be counted on to deliver a high clearance rate each year making Homicide one of the places they don’t have to worry about.  That is, until someone complains.

Bill recently took the time to speak to a group of students at the University of Alberta Law School.  This is a fairly common occurrence the same way defence lawyers and prosecutors are brought in to speak to recruit classes at police academies.  It’s designed to give each group a better understanding of role of the other groups in the system and remove common pre-conceptions.  Along with the sardonic humor that comes from too many murder scenes, too many autopsies, and talking to too many sociopaths in the Interview Room, Bill brought with him something seldom found on most campuses these days known as the unvarnished truth.

Laying in wait for Bill was 2nd year student Caitlin Dick who, represented by lawyer Tom Engel, repaid Bill’s candor by filing a complaint (and shopping it to the local press) calling for his suspension and re-assignment to the Rubber Gun Squad.

The knee-jerk reaction from the Edmonton Police at the executive level was what most of us have come to expect.  When I worked in the old Internal Investigation Squad in the early 90s I saw it too many times.  My advice to more than one Chief was to go easy on these things out of the gate.  You’re looking at unsubstantiated allegations that even if true, represent only one side of the story.   Give us a few hours to gather some facts and get a clearer picture before you take action because it’s a lot easier than having to rescind a public action like suspension that later proves unjustified.  One person who truly understood this was the late Deputy Chief Ken Higgins who died far too young last year.  I always valued his calm, clear headed leadership and wise counsel at times like that.

As if to prove the old maxim that people in panic mode seldom make good decisions they lost sight of the fact that, viewed in their worst light, the allegations against S/Sgt. Clark amounted to giving offense to someone, not killing them, and threw him to the wolves.  You can argue semantics and split all the hairs you want but Bill was de facto suspended and removed from Homicide.

Predictably, over the next day or so a couple of things emerged that became inconvenient.  Ms. Dick turned out to be the ‘partner’ of Engel’s daughter who is also a lawyer at Engel’s firm which specializes in allegations of police misconduct.  Engel himself turned out to have filed more complaints about the police than any other lawyer in Alberta and as Bill mentioned in class, the two shared a mutual hatred of each other.

Then some of Ms. Dick’s classmates, exhibiting a sense of fairness and objectivity that will serve them well in the future, came out solidly in Bill Clark’s corner.  Characterizing his presentation as ‘informative and helpful’ they described some of his more controversial remarks as ‘tongue-in-cheek’ while lending context to others.

Suddenly it went from ‘don’t let the door hit you in the ass’ to ‘Bill, why are you standing out there on the sidewalk?  Get back in here and get to work’.  Rather like that old joke where the guy says “I meant to say ‘Pass the butter’ but it came out……”

Bill Clark still faces investigation but the Edmonton Police executive would be well-advised not to make this any worse than they already have.  The minor nature of these allegations should be viewed in the context of 30 years of exemplary service, bringing the only closure to numerous bereaved families that they will ever get, not to mention making the Edmonton Police and the bosses look good year after year.  

You can offend some people these days by simply saying “the”. (Prime Time Crime exclusive)



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