Time for a little navel gazing

Morley Lymburner
February 01, 2014
By Morley Lymburner
The recent rash of police shootings and subsequent studies, trials, investigations and inquests has me concerned. Few people appear to give police the benefit of the doubt or understand what officers face. Police themselves, however, may spend far too much time defending actions rather than seriously taking a hard look inside. Many police services aggressively campaign to convince the public and media that their cops are friendly, cuddly folks who just want to help everyone. Government spin doctors emphasize that cops are not there to scare the living bejeebers out of the bad guys but to be nice to everyone. The latest trend in television and movies is to glorify the average Joe gone bad as the hero, undercutting the image of police as an effective protector of the public. This new media mix of hero bad guys and villanous good guys needs some serious and sober rethinking.

The recent rash of police shootings and subsequent studies, trials, investigations and inquests has me concerned. Few people appear to give police the benefit of the doubt or understand what officers face. Police themselves, however, may spend far too much time defending actions rather than seriously taking a hard look inside.

Many police services aggressively campaign to convince the public and media that their cops are friendly, cuddly folks who just want to help everyone. Government spin doctors emphasize that cops are not there to scare the living bejeebers out of the bad guys but to be nice to everyone.

The latest trend in television and movies is to glorify the average Joe gone bad as the hero, undercutting the image of police as an effective protector of the public. This new media mix of hero bad guys and villanous good guys needs some serious and sober rethinking.

Two trends in the early 90s seem to have been the watershed. Police 'force' was changed to police 'service' and there was a move toward more less-lethal options. Both changes were designed to make cops look friendly and non aggressive. What it may have inadvertently done is make police and policing irrelevant.

The unfortunate reality of life is that many predatory individuals seek out weakness, either real or perceived, and will seize every opportunity to exploit them. The 'force' change is symptomatic of the emasculation of policing concepts such as deterring crime and protecting the public. The new mindset is to soften the image of police as enforcers of laws democratically created by the will of the people. In other words, it's okay to make a law but not to take its implementation too seriously.

Somehow we became all mixed up. It's high time Canadian police 'services' emphasized that cops are out there to catch the bad guys. They must do so as aggressively as they can (within the law), if only for the public's peace of mind. The community must be confident that their police know what they are doing and are really good at catching crooks. People who may have a crooked leaning must be convinced they will be caught and appropriately punished.

Earning a community's respect can he accomplished in many ways but we need not sacrifice that necessary image of strength. The taxpayers want an agency that has the ability to have an iron fist but the intelligence to know when to use it appropriately.

In the mid-90s Winnipeg superintendent Bruce Taylor was asked why city police chose a more powerful handgun. The 40-calibre pistol was chosen for its "flesh-tearing characteristics," he replied. The news story went on to note that Taylor's committee chose the weapon because police needed a bigger gun capable of firing more bullets without reloading to keep up with the increased fire-power of criminals.

"Stopping power is a simple concept," Taylor explained. "To be morbid about it, the only thing that stops a bad guy is the size of the hole."

Initially I was taken aback when reading the forthright honesty of his comments but then realized the alternative would be to whimp out. Putting a positive spin on the new pistol would sound apologetic. It's obvious that Taylor knew very well the message he wanted to send. That message was directed at the criminal element as well as his community. Crooks wanting to play hard ball needed to know there is a real 'force' to be reckoned with.

I was recently equally impressed by a comment in that officers can be taught to shoot at less vulnerable areas instead of simply shooting to kill. This would require training them to a skill level where their firearms could be used as strategically as they might use less lethal weapons.

Eureka! If there is enough time and distance to strategically deploy a less lethal weapon, then why not simply use the firearm in the same strategic way to incapacitate a target? There are times when the threat is simply too dangerous to strategize anything other than lethal force. It may, however, be time for agencies to boost firearms training budgets instead of buying more tools to shoehorn on an already overloaded gunbelt. Using carbines to increase distance and accuracy is a welcome opportunity to encourage a change in mindset toward less lethal force.

There are many factors which influence societal opinion but a little police navel gazing could do a lot of good. There just might be some things that could be done better.

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