Thursday, November 29, 2007

National vs Local Policing (and a winters day)

Vicki here. I had breakfast yesterday with a group of friends. Someone asked me if I was planning to go away for the winter. I said, “Yes, to Nelson. I’ve come to Nelson to spend the winter.” I guess I’ve become such a part of the community that people forget I don’t actually live here. That’s nice. We had about 12 inches of snow the other night. It looks wonderful on the mountains and the trees. I really do love it. (I can hear Charles shivering with horror).

Up here in Canada the news is still full of the Dziekanski case, as well as another incident that just happened in Halifax, I believe, of a man dying after being Tasered by the RCMP. Reports also suggest that Canadian’s faith in the RCMP as our national police force are being seriously undermined. Certainly there is no doubt that the Mounties are in a lot of trouble. As a quick explanation to our U.S. friends, the RCMP is a national police force to the extent that you don’t have in the U.S. Very few towns in Canada have their own police force. The big cities do, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal etc. The smaller cities sometimes do, i.e. Oakville, Ontario where I’m from, pop 150,000. But outside of the urban centers, it is highly unusual to find a local police force. In Ontario rural and highway policing is done by the Ontario Provincial Police; in Quebec by the Surete du Quebec, otherwise it’s the RCMP. In areas, such as Nelson (pop 9,000) that have their own small police force, the RCMP is called upon for forensic investigation, help with big cases such as murder and the like. The RCMP also have responsibilities for duties such as guarding politicians and the Houses of Parliament, and intelligence work. We began to fear that something was wrong in the National Police force with the Mahar Arar case. The Commissioner of the RCMP was fired for lying to Parliament; an inquiry accused the RCMP of illegal activity and incompetence, and Arar was given $10 Million in compensation. (If you want to know more, you won’t have any problem Googleing “Mahar Arar”)

Then the deaths recently of young, inexperienced officers in remote communities in which there is some suggestion that young officers aren’t being trained properly before being sent out on their own, a high-profile death in custody case, and, of course, the Dziekanski death.

All of which has little to do with the officers on the ground, such as the ones I’ve met here in Nelson, who are just trying to do their jobs.

Is there a solution? I think there’s a lot to be said for a national police force. For example, my daughter has worked on the exploited children task in conjunction with the Government of Canada, the RCMP, the Toronto Police, and Microsoft, who developed the software. She says that the project has been deployed much slower in the U.S. than in Canada because they don't have an equivalent to the RCMP, which was able to disperse the software to Canadian police services across the country, as well as to train them on how to use it.

On the other hand, the people of Nelson really want to keep their City Police. There has always been talk about disbanding the Nelson City Police and using the RCMP as the other areas in the province do. (Having your own police force is much more expensive). But the citizens like having police who know their community and are part of it.

Stay tuned – I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more!

P.S. In the cabin where I’m staying, there is a shelf of old mystery novels and anthologies. I casually picked up a book called “Clues! A History of Forensic Detection.” I’m now racing through it. It was published in 1989 so has the beginnings of the use of DNA in it, but I’m still reading about the early years of toxicology and fingerprinting. One thing leapt out at me that five years ago would have passed by. In the description of early methods of crime solving – torture the suspect until he or she confesses, crime solved - there is a description of one Marquise de Brinvilliers being subjected to the ‘water torture’ along with a print of same done at the time. Have we really gone back to that?

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