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November 25, 2014 By Ian Parsons
There has been a disturbing trend in Canada during the past decade or so. One only needs to scan the media to discover that there are increasing incidents of citizens being wounded or killed by law enforcement firearms.
Like the British Bobby, Canadian police traditionally found means other than their deadly weapons to de-escalate explosive situations. During the recent past, it appears as though police on this side of the border resembles a similar model attributed to American peace officers who have tended to be more weapons-oriented. It is a disturbing trend, and begs some questions:
Are we seeing in this generation of law enforcement the results of a more permissive environment in our young people, a proportion who have been raised in fragmented, dysfunctional homes. Have violent video games and the constant barrage of carnage in the media resulted in influencing this generation of law enforcement?
The modern vision of a patrolman with his Batman utility belt, containing automatic pistol, Taser, pepper spray and baton is a stark contrast to police of an earlier generation. Compared to another decade, the contemporary policeman has the appearance of a Star Wars storm trooper.
Most police forces employ 12 hour shifts. Is it possible that personnel are becoming exhausted and vulnerable, particularly at the end of their long shifts? Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the shift cycles.
Perhaps all of the above are worthy of examination. It is highly probable the latter question has had the greatest impact. Those of us who were in harness in years gone by were very familiar with the call to apprehend a patient under the Mental Health Act. These calls were almost always unpredictable, sometimes required the use of a strait-jacket and more often than not were fraught with danger. In those years mental health facilities, usually referred to as asylums received our charges. Some were held for periods of time, while others were released almost immediately and occasionally ended up back in the community before you were. Regardless our input was regarded as worthy of attention.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had a dramatic effect on this country’s ability to incarcerate persons under provincial mental health statutes. Patients formerly under care were granted their “freedom” and left to their own devices, often ending up on the street. Today the likelihood of police encountering them without knowing their background is very real. Many end up destitute, bereft of any professional care and unable to fend for themselves. Some are delusional and can pose very dangerous circumstances for anyone confronting them.
By all appreances the majority of police shootings of late can be attributed to the victim being in some sort mental distress.
It has become far more dangerous for police to confront a mentally unstable subject in a hostile environment such as the local slums. At least there was some measure of preparation in the old days, when family or physicians would advise of a potential concern. Police could pick the time and place, have adequate assistance, very often from the medical field to help. Currently, police encountering indigent persons in mental distress often must react with little warning or preparation.
With the current cpolitical mindsets, it appears as though needed changes to address problems of transients with serious personality disorders will not be coming any time soon. If anything, the problem will be exacerbated by increasing legal drug abuse, causing more and more of the population to fall into personality disarray. The foregoing dynamics can present serious and dangerous circumstances for law enforcement.
With this bleak forecast, it becomes incumbent upon police trainers and curriculums to contain as much information and expertise as possible to equip the “boots on the ground” to cope with very troubling social problems. No amount of information is too much when dealing with human personality disorders, and no one needs it more than our dedicated police officers.
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Ian T. Parsons is a retired RCMP Inspector currently living in Courtenay, BC. He is the author of
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