Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cops and Robbers

Vicki here.

Very interesting post by Rick about the Vancouver Taser incident. And an even more interesting discussion in the comments between Rick and Charles. I also saw the video of the incident the day it was released, and, like Rick, I was horrified. The whole thing just gets worse and worse. The man is disoriented, breathing very heavily, he’s been trapped in the airport for about 10 hours, and no one, no one, is trying to help him. He can’t find his mother. She eventually gives up trying to find him, because no one will help her, and goes home. Just awful. Before the police even get involved, you have to ask, what the heck was going on with airport security, border services, and any sort of airport employee. Nothing, apparently. He didn’t speak English, not exactly unusual for a county with the immigrant population this one has, but an interpreter was not called.

Then the police arrive, and whamo – he’d dead. Frightful. My police contacts tell me that they think it unlikely the taser killed him, it was probably the compression of the knee to his neck (remember that he was having difficulty breathing even before being tasered).

By the way, I note that my version of Word doesn’t know the word Taser. Well it will soon!

When I traveled in the U.S. recently on my book tour, I often talked about the differences between U.S. and Canadian policing. That’s something I know a bit about because I read lots of American mysteries (which makes me an expert!) and because I write Canadian police procedurals. A couple of days after the release of the Taser incident videotape, I had coffee with my police detective friend, and an RCMP forensic investigator he brought along to meet me. The subject, naturally, turned to the taser incident. The police I know are all pretty horrified, but not rushing to judgment. I told them a bit about my book tour discussion topic and they said that Canadian policing is “gentler”. An interesting word. “Until Vancouver” one of them put in.

So I thought I’d write a bit today about “gentler” and what that might mean. A couple of years ago I went to a talk at Bouchercon (the largest annual mystery convention) when it was held in Toronto. A Toronto police officer was there from the ERT. Emergency response team. Those are the people called out to hostage takings and such like. It was a really enjoyable presentation. The officer told us that they train and train with police from all over the world. With one exception – Americans. They think that Americans, both police, bystanders, and perpetrators are too quick to use their guns. In Canada, according to this guy, a situation has been a failure if anyone – including the hostage-taker – is hurt. In the US, again according to this guy, if the bad guy is killed by the police, and no one else hurt, that is a successful conclusion.

U.S. police officers are required to carry their guns off duty; Canadians are not allowed to. At the end of In the Shadow of the Glacier, Constable Smith is in her civilian clothes, and all she has to defend herself are her stiletto heels and cell phone. Of course, she is such a resourceful officer (being the product of my own imagination) that she manages just fine with the shoes.

Which style of policing is better? I have my opinion, I’m sure you have yours. If one good thing comes out of the investigation (and it looks like everyone and their dog will be investigating), perhaps it will stop Canadian policing from sliding down that slippery slope towards automatic armed confrontation.

Make no mistake, policing in Canada isn’t a lark. Several young Mounties have been murdered in just the last couple of months in remote northern communities. And then there was the shooting death of two Mounties in Saskatchewan about a year ago and the killing of four in Maplethorpe, Alberta by a lone, crazy gun-lover.

It’s interesting that as gang violence in the cities has been increasing, and fast, and guns are flooding the bigger cities, all the police murders that I’ve mentioned have been in rural, or very small town, areas. Still, it’s gotta have an effect on police and policing.

I’ll give this all some more thought, and perhaps write more next week.


Rick Blechta said...

Having lived on both sides of the border, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Yes, some people won't like what you've said and others won't understand it, but you've got it right.

The response of your police friends is very interesting. It's been a parallel here in Toronto with the cops I've spoken to. They've all said that the Mounties blew it, but are also not rushing to judgements on it. I just hope we get some real answers when all the smoke clears.

Donis Casey said...

I'm horribly disillusioned. I hoped that Canada really was a bastion of gentle reason. I guess the world is just too small a place these days to keep violence and paranoia from bleeding into every corner, even small towns in the remote wilderness.

Vicki Delany said...

Don't worry, Donis. I'm still a bastion of gentle reason.

Rick Blechta said...

I've always just managed to be a bastion.

At least that's what I THINK they're always saying. My hearing's getting a little bad.