Working in a micro environment with a macro vision

Morley Lymburner
December 20, 2012
By Morley Lymburner
Policing is all about an individual officer dealing with one problem at a time. This is a micro response. If a micro problem suddenly grows, the officer must have a macro system ready to respond. As basic as this may sound metropolitan Vancouver's current system is a hodge podge and patchwork system of mixed jurisdictions overlaying mixed or absent capability. Accountability seems to go nowhere that the public can pin down and, unfortunately, the region is blessed with many people who may not like it but nonetheless tolerate it. The ideal policing format is a large police service with strong community control and no political manipulation. These larger services must have the ability to function at the community level using the advantages that come with size, yet be able to deal with the smallest of needs. Is BC capable of delivering such a service? With the release of the Pickton Inquiry Report British Columbians must seriously grapple with this challenge.

Policing is all about an individual officer dealing with one problem at a time. This is a micro response. If a micro problem suddenly grows, the officer must have a macro system ready to respond.

As basic as this may sound metropolitan Vancouver's current system is a hodge podge and patchwork system of mixed jurisdictions overlaying mixed or absent capability. Accountability seems to go nowhere that the public can pin down and, unfortunately, the region is blessed with many people who may not like it but nonetheless tolerate it.

The ideal policing format is a large police service with strong community control and no political manipulation. These larger services must have the ability to function at the community level using the advantages that come with size, yet be able to deal with the smallest of needs. Is BC capable of delivering such a service? With the release of the Pickton Inquiry Report British Columbians must seriously grapple with this challenge.

Policing has never lent itself easily to simplification. The average citizen thinks of the military when they see police and their uniforms, guns and what appears to be exterior flak vests (only in Canada, I might add), but armies work in a macro environment with a macro vision.

In the grand scheme of things policing was originally designed to reflect the philosophy that smaller is best and non-military is even better. Sir Robert Peel had a revolutionary idea in the early part of the 19th Century – replace soldiers, watchmen and insurance societies with a police force made up of citizens from the community. They not only know what is going on but have a vested interest in keeping it safe.

Peel began with London and a large police service, which wasn't a paradox in his policing vision. This concept was revolutionary for the time and satisfied the needs of the industrial revolution. Great numbers of people from the country were being displaced to cities to work in the factories, foundries and commerce. With this unprecedented social upheaval came a more mobile society and large numbers of transient neighbours. Having home-grown cops who kept an ear to the ground was a distinct advantage in preventing crime.

If you live in greater Vancouver does this sound familiar?

The pressure is on in the Lower Mainland to create a unified police service, which would greatly benefit the greater Vancouver area. Currently it has macro problems with a micro response capability. The ideal for policing, as stated, is to work in a micro environment with a macro capability. This means working on a community problem but being able to call upon a greater capability to resolve it in a fast and efficient manner.

The Lower Mainland is in much the same state as the Toronto area in 1954, where the ability to handle small town issues was hampered by the need to respond to larger issues across broader areas. When serious problems crossed boundaries (such as rivers flooding after Hurricane Hazel), there were no unified public safety agency, common plans of response or even the capability to create one in advance. How fast can officers work together and how well do the chiefs get along?

In this day of terrorist threats, organized crime, social upheaval, traffic congestion and the potential for natural disasters, none of which respect boundaries, the greater Vancouver area clearly needs a unified police response. There must be just one command level, rule book, training manual, set of procedures and accountability level. Most importantly there must be no political interference other than what is necessary to make it happen.

A short time ago a BC politician was quoted as saying he was very pleased with the degree to which the provinces' various police departments worked together with their specialty inter-force squads. This reminds me of a comment about German engineering efficiency. It is said they will build a machine to exact precision utilizing a maximum number of gears and everyone stands back and marvels in awe at how smoothly it all meshes together. An American will put two gears together, turn it on and get about doing the work it was designed to do.

Canada is a big country and the need for policing in any particular area must be based on that area's demands, geography, population and related factors. Policing must be designed for optimum response balanced by maximum capability. Lower mainland British Columbia needs a micro ability with a macro capability. The BC Legislature is the only entity that can make that happen. All it needs is understanding, vision and courage.

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