Blue Line


February 10, 2016  By Keith Copeland

by Keith Copeland

“The thin blue line has become a thin bruised line… greyed, frayed and stretched to the breaking point.” said author Doug Clark, laying bare the roots of the crisis unfolding in Canadian policing.

Clark, author of (2010 Key Porter Books), said the message in his book failed to generate the interest or change that he had hoped for.

Michael Kempa’s discussion paper written for the Canadian Police College in 2014, shows how economics will drive change in the coming years. As technology advances, crime control techniques evolve to meet the challenges of today’s knowledge based, service oriented world economy, which knows no geographical or judicial boundaries.


The challenges are overwhelming the current model of policing and Kempa’s paper questions how we can adapt. He argues that we need a new Sir Robert Peel, the oft quoted father of modern policing.

Clark and Kempa take a long hard look at how Canadian policing arrived at its current state and chart a path forward. Their writings mirror the fact that our society is in the midst of a historical cultural shift. Generations have spent their formative years in the digital world. The reactive response model hasn’t caught up with the shift that other businesses had to make and law enforcement is handcuffed by laws which traditionally lag behind societal changes.

Cybercrimes are no less of a crime than any other offence but they exist in a world far removed from traditional investigative techniques. Policing the virtual world will require a whole new playbook which has yet to be written. There is a brand new world of organized crime that has no homicidal intent, turf to protect or threat from police investigation. Fraud has been taken to exquisite new levels as these cyber trawlers net billions of dollars each year in illegal transactions. Police simply don’t have the skills or resources to keep up.

All of the banks and tech companies have their own in-house security. Many small and large businesses contract cyber security issues to private agencies. The threats made to these clients are global in nature, not just in their widespread origins but also their economic fallout, so the stakes are very high. The highly technical, cross border investigations conducted in these matters simply cannot be replicated in the law enforcement world.

Neil Sutton, editor of Canadian Security magazine, said he’s seen a shift in his industry the past few years with an increasing alignment of IT and physical security. Sutton says that there are a great many new opportunities opening up within the realm of private security beyond the guns, gates and guards.

That’s not to say that private security is declining. Many companies advertise for people to fill front line positions because of exponential increases in business opportunities, not just normal turn over. Many are now stepping into non-core policing roles as budget cuts force police agencies to seek alternatives to unsustainable practices.

In researching this article, I sent a brief survey to private security companies asking about their relationship with law enforcement, guard training and the importance of certain skillsets. The survey lead to some interesting discussions with key industry players.

Many private security managers/owners have a law enforcement background, providing them peer based network access they would not otherwise have. One manager told me that in his metropolitan area, various security companies meet regularly with law enforcement to compare notes about criminal and other activity occurring in private/public spaces like malls and housing developments. These meetings are the conduit where critical intel is fanned out to law enforcement. This ad hoc committee was created to address a critical need, he said, and works well but would never be officially sanctioned because there are too many regulatory hurdles prohibiting such sharing, regardless of its value.

This is a perfect illustration of the many challenges involved in handing off non-core policing roles to private security that Kempa advocates in the clear unvarnished language of his paper. One cannot disagree that shedding some tasks will result in efficiencies and savings, but are all the checks and balances that we require of police currently doing those jobs present in the private security world?

The Nova Scotia government undertook in 2010 to revamp the act regulating private investigators and security guards. Roger Miller, now President of Northeastern Protection (Dartmouth, NS), participated in the review and says that there was a huge disconnect between government regulators and private security.

Miller said his industry campaigned for legislated training and increased standards and screening for security personnel but the advice was ignored.

“None of what we proposed was ever accepted in the legislation,” he says. “Here you have government, who regulates the industry, not listening to industry.”

The Canadian General Standards Board has a standard for security guard training (133.1) but no authority to impose it. Only a few provinces have standards for private security guards and they are all different. Miller is frustrated that nothing ever came from Nova Scotia’s Bill 22, which he saw as an opportunity to bridge a gap between public policing and private security.

The changes Miller’s industry campaigned for would have led to greater acceptance and confidence in the abilities of private security to take on non-core policing roles, as it is doing more and more frequently.

Many thousands of police officers are being laid off in Britain, adding to the 17,000 already carved from the ranks in the past five years. The economic factors leading to these massive cuts also confront us here but raising the issue with Canadian police results in a collective shrug instead of any concerted effort at reform.

Former Toronto Police D/Chief Peter Sloly found out who his friends were when he spoke candidly about his fear for the future of policing.

“I’ve never seen policing at this low a point in terms of public trust and legitimacy,” he said. “I feel there’s a crisis in the offing, not just here but right across North America.”

Sloly poured fuel on the fire with his statements that layoffs are a legitimate cost cutting measure which the TPS could manage as it struggles to do more with less.

Despite having received accolades for some of his innovative strategies, Sloly was vilified for having the temerity to state publicly that there is room for cuts. His comments about blowing up the current policing model weren’t well received from any quarter, at least publicly, but are fully grounded in the European experience, which has arisen from deep cuts.

All three levels of government bear some responsibility or authority for policing, making the prospect of consensus on change a real quagmire. Couple that with the political purges brought about by elections and it’s easier to understand how law enforcement still lurches along on wheels provided by Sir Robert.

Peel’s wheels have served us well but we need a new ride and it will be interactive, not autonomous. Bold strokes are required from all directions to confront the seismic cultural changes now underway.


Keith Copeland is a former St.John police officer and currently a law enforcement instructor with Trios College. Contact:

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