The RCMP Standard of Conduct

During the recent debate on the expunging of police disciplinary records Winnipeg’s Chief of Police essentially took the position that because criminals can apply to receive pardons after five years of criminal inactivity, police officers should be able to apply to have their disciplinary records expunged after five years as well.  I wrote a post at the time which stated in part:

Talk about lowering your level of expectations by comparing police officers to criminals.  Whatever happened to the principle of expecting the very best from police officers and holding police officers to a higher standard?  The Chief’s position on this is poorly thought out and just plain wrong.

The recent press release by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Robinson in response to the criminal conviction of two RCMP officers is a refreshing change when compared to the drivel being spouted by Winnipeg’s Chief.

Robinson stated:

We recognize that our members are held to a higher standard and we are proud of the hundreds of hard-working men and women providing highly professional police services to Manitoba communities. (emphasis added is mine)

That is how it should be!

RCMP Tight Lipped About Bousquet Investigation

In December of 2009 the media was in an uproar over the alleged use of excessive force by Winnipeg police when they arrested  Cody Bousquet.

Allegations of police misconduct filled the air.

In January of 2010 the Winnipeg Police Service decided to call in the RCMP to conduct a review of the incident.  The intent of the review was to determine if  members of the Winnipeg Police Service used excessive force in arresting Bousquet.  One of the reasons the RCMP was asked to do the review was that one of the officers involved was the current Chief’s nephew.

As the investigation has now been ongoing for close to 2 years I decided to follow-up to determine if any progress has been made.

I first contacted the Winnipeg Police Service to inquire as to the status of the investigation and received the following reply:

This investigation is being handled by the RCMP and therefore all questions pertaining to the investigation should be directed to them.

I then contacted the RCMP and asked them the same question.  The RCMP replied with this statement:

The RCMP is not in a position to comment on this specific matter at this time.

Generally, only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, would the RCMP confirm its investigation, the nature of any charges laid and the identity of the individual (s) involved.

Despite the fact that the RCMP would seem to have a policy on not confirming they are conducting an investigation until such time as charges are laid, I found an interesting quote in an article by Chris Ketching where the RCMP did in fact comment on and confirm that they were investigating the Bousquet matter.

The RCMP has been made aware of this apparent contradiction.  No response at the time of this writing.

Unpuzzling the Mayor About Downtown Safety

Air Canada recently put out a directive to staff instructing them to no longer stay in downtown Winnipeg hotels citing safety concerns.  According to media reports, our Mayor is puzzled by this move.

The Mayor,  other politicians and special interest groups with a  vested interest in the downtown, have for years been perpetuating the illusion that the downtown area of Winnipeg is a safe place.

I suppose Air Canada’s refusal to ignore the facts is what is puzzling the Mayor.

The Crimestat Maps that follow depict the 8 types of crime tracked by Crimestat for the period for October 1st 2010 and October 1st 2011.  Map 1 shows the Portage South Community, Map 2 the Central Park Community, and Map 3 the Portage Ellice Community.  The maps (and statistic tables) for those 3 downtown communities show that in the previous calendar year there were 4 homicides,  111  muggings,  and 24 *  sexual assaults.

Map 1

                                                               South Portage Community

Map 2

                                                               Central Park Community

Map 3

Portage Ellice Community

Now let’s have a look at the St. James Industrial Community, where the Ar Canada staff will be staying.  This area  had no homicides in the last year, 6 muggings and 6 sexual assaults and a smattering of other property crime.

Map 4

                                                              St. James Industrial Community

If you are still puzzled Mr. Mayor why not go for a walk with the Chief of Police to Portage Avenue and Main Street, pull your collective heads out of the clouds and look what is happening on Portage Avenue.  Alternately have a close look at Crimestat and ‘visit’ some of the neighbourhoods in the downtown and the immediate north end and ask yourself how safe you would feel to live there.  And finally, do something about it.

Stop spewing the election time propaganda that policing and the safety of Winnipeg streets is a provincial problem.  It’s not.  It’s a City of Winnipeg problem.  It’s your problem and a Winnipeg Police problem.  Do your job and provide appropriate policy direction to the Police Service and hold them accountable to address the issue of crime on the streets of Winnipeg.

*  correction to original post

To Expunge or not Expunge

The Winnipeg Police Service is  requesting a change to the by law governing the retention of police discipline records.  Once approved by Council, disciplinary records will be expunged after five years of discipline free performance.

The Winnipeg Police Association has been pushing for such a change for some time.  What’s different about the current proposal is that it’s the  Winnipeg Police Service advocating for such a change.  The Winnipeg Police Association must have been in a position to use some leverage in order to persuade the Winnipeg Police Service to put forward this proposal.

Since the ruling in R. v. McNeil which required that the police turn over to the Crown disciplinary records for officers involved in criminal cases, police across the country have been attempting to find ways to avoid turning over such records.  In other words they have been looking for a sure-fire loop-hole.  Expunging police disciplinary records seems to be the answer.

The report submitted to EPC actually says that.

What is perhaps even more disturbing is the second portion of the proposed by law change that would require that an informal resolution process be considered in all disciplinary cases.  Cases handled informally would not generate an entry on a discipline record and therefore would never be subject to disclosure.  So the first part would expunge records that currently exist, and the second part would ensure few, if any, future entries on officers’ files.

To top it all off, according to a report in the Winnipeg Free  Press the Chief of Police is apparently taking the position that because criminals can apply for a pardon after 5 years it only makes sense that police officers should have their records expunged after 5 years as well.  Talk about lowering your level of expectations by comparing police officers to criminals.  Whatever happened to the principle of expecting the very best from police officers and holding police officers to a higher standard?  The Chief’s position on this is poorly thought out and just plain wrong.

It’s one thing for criminals to attempt to circumvent the intent of court rulings.  No surprises there.  We should, however, be entitled to expect more from our police.

Helicopters, Lasers and the Media

The recent reaction by Winnipeg Police to the actions of an idiot (and that is being kind) shining a laser beam at the police helicopter is an example of a poorly conceived media strategy.

The incident, although deadly serious and with grave potential for serious consequences for the helicopter crew, is of the type that is best dealt with in a low-key manner.

By expressing such immediate and public outrage at the incident, the police are exposing their raw nerves to other potential fools.   An isolated incident that could have been effectively dealt with and without fanfare has instead resulted in a media furor – one that has spun out of the control and out of the hands of police.   It has grown legs.

When police over react, the media will over react, which is what we are seeing.  One news outlet actually featured a rambling interview with the suspect marvelling at how by simply  using a two-bit laser pen, he was almost able to bring down a 3 million dollar helicopter.   This only serves to sensationalize what is a serious issue.  The suspect was nabbed quickly and efficiently by the police.  No fanfare was needed.

Police officials have provoked a media circus with the potential of rousing other fools in the possession of two-bit laser pointers who may now feel the urge to tear themselves away from their video games and play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with police.

Is Justice Served by a Technical Acquittal?

The news  coverage of Hymie Weinstein and Sheldon Pinx revelling in their  victory over Robert Tapper  brought to mind the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “This is a court of law young man, not a court of justice”.

The media coverage showed Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Pinx basking in the glow of their victory, unable to hide their unseemly glee.  Their motion for a directed verdict was based on what they argued was a failure on the part of Mr. Tapper to identify the accused in court.  Mr. Tapper’s position is that identification was achieved.  The court disagreed and granted the motion.  The case was dismissed.

What does this mean?  It means that the jury that heard all the evidence was not given the opportunity to render a verdict.  It means that two officers were acquitted not on the merits of the case but rather on a procedural technicality, the type of technicality that normally causes great concern among officers.  It means that in the minds of many Winnipeggers the reputations of  two officers who were not convicted on a crime were none the less tarnished.  It means that if they decide to continue their careers as police officers, every time they appear in court to testify there will be nagging doubts about their testimony in the minds of crowns, defense counsel and judges.

In the world of sports, as in our courts, there is a recognition that referees and judges don’t always get it right the first time around.  Mr. Tapper has indicated that he will be throwing the challenge flag, appealing the case to the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

The role of defense counsel is to represent the best interests of their clients.  At first blush it would appear that Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Pinx did that.  Their clients were acquitted.

If, at the end of the day, an acquittal is the appropriate outcome in this case,  it needs to be an acquittal rendered by a jury based on the evidence; not a technical acquittal that leaves unanswered questions and doubt.

I think a “replay” may be to everyone’s benefit in this case.

Mayerthorpe Inquiry Begins

On March 10th 2005, I, along with hundreds (if not thousands) of police officers from Canada and the United States marched through the streets of Edmonton en-route to the funeral of four members of the RCMP.  It was a show of  solidarity and respect for the fallen officers  who had been murdered while on duty in Mayerthorpe Alberta.

There has been much speculation about what went so dreadfully wrong on that fateful day in March of 2005.  Publicly the RCMP have been tight-lipped about how it was possible for the killer to get back to the quonset hut the Mounties were guarding, unnoticed, and kill all four members present.

An inquiry under the Alberta Fatality Inquiries Act began Monday.  The intent of the inquiry is not to assign blame but rather to establish the facts and make recommendations to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

The determination that the four officers were murdered by James Roszko, aided and abetted by two others has settled the question of who was blameworthy in a criminal sense.

The inquiry, however, may shed further light on what actually happened; what the RCMP  policies and procedures were in relation to the incident  in question; what changes the RCMP have made in the ensuing 6 years; and what still needs to be done.

Many police officers (albeit without all the facts) are of the opinion that these four deaths were preventable.

The Benefits of Openness and Transparency in Policing

One of the keys to the development of positive relations between the police and the community is the creation of a culture of openness and transparency in policing.

During my many years as a police officer I found that when police explain what they are doing and why they are doing it, all but a few members of the public (and the media) ‘get it’. They may not always agree but they recognize and understand the rationale.

What is required from police is a willingness to be open and transparent. Police departments have been and continue to be secretive about almost everything they are involved in. Unless, of course, they are looking for media coverage of positive stories or they need media assistance in getting out a message about a particular case where they need information from the public to solve the case.

Greater openness and transparency on the part of police departments would go a long way to improve the police image in the eyes of the public. It would also provide a greater measure of accountability.

Lets look at an example: there are few issues in policing that create more heated debate than police use of force. Police departments are seldom taken to task for high crime rates, low clearance rates or the like. But, an instance of police use of force, especially if captured on video (such as the Rodney King incident in Los Angles, the Robert Dziekanski incident in Vancouver or the Cody Bousquet case here in Winnipeg) focuses public attention on the actions of police.

One of the main issues when these types of incidents come to the public’s attention is that the public, and to a lesser extent the media, are ill-informed about what police department policies are in relation to use of force.

There are several approaches that can be taken to address  issues like this in a proactive way. One is to create greater transparency in terms of police policies and procedures. If, for example, both the public and the media are fully aware of the police department’s use of force policy, and the policy is a public document, a lot of speculation and misinformation could be avoided.

Secondly, if police departments conducted information sessions explaining their policies both for the media and the public, the resulting dialogue would eliminate many of the misconceptions that exist.

Some police departments such as Vancouver and Portland, Oregon have put their procedure manual on-line – a bold and progressive step.

Police in Oakland, California recently invited the community and the media to a seminar that outlined the use of force training received by members of the Oakland Police Department. The seminar dealt with both the legal use of force framework, as well as hands on demonstration of video simulator training.

Initiatives such as these reinforce openness, transparency and accountability to the public on the part of police and create positive dialogue between the public and the police.

Note: The Oakland Police Department has also opened its CompStat meetings to the public.

Starlight Tours In Winnipeg

Myth or reality

The recent allegations by Evan Maud that he was picked up by police and driven to the outskirts of Winnipeg, deprived of some of his clothing, threatened with a Taser and then abandoned, have the potential of setting back relations between the Winnipeg police and the Aboriginal community all the way to the J. J. Harper era.

Since the incidents of police in Saskatoon driving young aboriginal males outside the city and abandoning them first came to light, there have been on going rumours about the same thing having happened in Winnipeg.

When aboriginal people say to each other or their leaders ‘that happened to me’ but fail to come forward and file a formal complaint, they perpetuate what is either a myth or a very serious problem.  If if did not happen, then the Winnipeg Police Service and its members are  being maligned; if it did happen, heads should roll.

I have only one word of advice for Evan Maud his family, and the aboriginal leaders who are advising him:  Make a formal report and do it now. And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about not trusting the police or the process.  In a high-profile case such as this, if the matter is reported it will be properly investigated.

If the matter is submitted for investigation there are basically three possible outcomes:  Either Maud was picked up by Winnipeg Police officers; picked up by men posing as Winnipeg police officers; or, it did not happen.

Either way the matter needs to be investigated, and  appropriate action needs to follow.

Crime Stoppers in Ohio Stops Taking Tips About Narcotics

A case of Information Overload

Crime Stoppers is an international not-for- profit organization that assists police agencies by providing information from anonymous callers in exchange for cash rewards.  Crime Stoppers has been successful in both the United States and Canada in providing police with information about many types of crimes but especially tips that relate to drug investigations.

As a rule, police always say they can never get too much, or for that matter, enough information about drug dealers.

In a bizarre turn of events, Central Ohio Crime Stoppers announced recently that they will stop taking calls (tips) about narcotics.

Apparently their tips are passed onto Columbus Police who are so back logged with their own tips that they have been unable to follow-up on Crime Stoppers tips for the last five years.

According to Columbus Police, they have received 4000 tips so far this year from their own tips line, 311 and from street officers and they don’t feel that the move by Crime Stoppers to not take drug tips will hinder them.