Sammy Yatim: Why?
The profile of civilian policing in North America has changed; and much of it is due to two “wars”. The “wars” I refer to are the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. The most alarming side effect of these “wars” has been the militarization of policing and the way civilian law enforcement goes about its daily business.
As Canada is so closely tied to its neighbour to the south, it is best to begin there. There are a couple of facets to the paradigm shift that law enforcement in the US is undergoing. The first is the breakdown of the long American tradition of civil-military separation. In the past several decades since the declaration of the War on Drugs, Congress has increasingly assigned law enforcement duties to the military. Second, police officers, from municipal to federal, are increasingly coming to resemble soldiers in their training, equipment and tactics (have you perused an issue of the Tactical Edge lately?). Most American citizens seem to have regarded this gradual, almost imperceptible, shift as a trade off for their safety. To put this all in perspective consider these seminal events:
Some of you may remember that I was involved as a consultant to the FBI during the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff at Waco Texas. I was surprised to learn that US federal law enforcement agents were trained by Army Special Forces, at Ft. Hood Texas, prior to their fateful raid on the Davidian compound. Moreover, it was Delta Force Commanders who advised Attorney General Janet Reno to insert gas into the compound to terminate the 51-day siege.
As early as the 2 year period between 1995 and 1997 the US Dept. of Defense gave American police departments 1.2 million pieces of military equipment, including grenade launchers, and armoured personnel carriers. To date, the LAPD has amassed hundreds of Army surplus M-16s.
For several decades the US Congress has been encouraging the American military to provide training, equipment, and intelligence to civilian police. This has inevitably lead to local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel adopting the tactics and mindset of their mentors. While this may have a certain cosmetic appeal, to those who feel unsafe, a problem arises. The military and law enforcement mandates are very different. The soldier is an instrument of war and is trained to do maximum damage; the soldier’s mandate is “to close with and destroy”. The police, on the other hand, are expected to keep the peace, to use minimum force, and to bring suspected criminals to the court. The overarching mandate of the police is to “serve and protect”. The confusing of these two mandates can have disastrous consequences.
But this is Canada, you say! All I have been talking about is the American experience? The connection is made through training. Canadian and American law enforcement have a strong cross-border relationship. It is even stronger today in the post 9-11 scramble to integrate more and more Canadian and US law enforcement functions. Many Canadian police persons go south to attend conferences and training courses. And coming in the opposite direction, many US law enforcement personnel come north to train our police persons. As a consequence of the War on Terror, more training has become the norm; bigger and better equipment (e.g. armoured vehicles, sound cannons) is more easily justified.
It is becoming apparent, to some, that this Canadian-American cross-polinization has come with some unintended consequences. Far too many Canadian citizens are becoming the victims of excessive force (e.g. Robert Dziekanski – Vancouver; Thomas McKay – Victoria; G-20 – Toronto; Mark Krupa- Ottawa; Tyler Archer- Victoria; Bill Berry- Red Deer; Willow Kinlock- Victoria; Sammy Yatim- Toronto?).
In his report, following the Braidwood Commission of Inquiries, Commissioner Braidwood made some scathing comments. One of those comments was directed at the two use-of-force “experts” that had been called to testify. One of these individuals represented the RCMP and the other represented the Vancouver Police Department. The Commissioner’s comment was:
“I interpret the expert testimony of these two senior and experienced officers as reflecting the use-of-force training that occurs within the RCMP at large and in BC’s municipal police departments. If that is so, it troubles me greatly”.
I suppose that as Canadian civilian police are inevitably influenced by their American counterparts who now carry military equipment, get military training and embrace military culture and values we shouldn’t be surprised when the former begin to act like soldiers, treat Canadian citizens like enemy combatants, and regard private property as if it was a piece of the battlefield.
In closing, I will clarify and say that I don’t hold the young members on the street entirely responsible. In most cases they are doing what they have been trained to do. Who trained them? Better yet, which senior executives were involved in the decisions that paved the way for the militarization of Canadian civilian policing? Even better where is our government?
“Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.