RCMP Accountability and Complaints Mechanisms: In-depth view

Posted: November 7, 2011 by sandhu17 in RCMP Accountability and Oversight
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RCMP accountability can be summed up as the responsibility the RCMP have in regards to their duty. The accountability that RCMP officers have holds them responsible for their actions or inactions while on duty. Another definition for accountability can be as follows “Accountability may be defined in broad terms: A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s actions (or inactions) and decisions, to justify them as appropriate and proper and, in the case of misconduct, to suffer sanction” (Schedler 1999, 13-28). If an officer does something he or she is not supposed to while on duty, citizens can report this act using a complaint mechanism. Complaint mechanisms allow a person to bring to light any unethical or unprofessional act committed by members of the RCMP. There are also a number of measures taken to ensure that the RCMP can be held accountable as an organization, these can be found on the following link Organizational accountability.The following link provides a more detailed look into the topics of accountability and complaints mechanisms RCMP Accountability and Complaints mechanisms

The issue of RCMP accountability and complaints mechanisms is of major concern to the public because the RCMP are in charge of the safety of the citizens in their respective society, and if those who are sworn to protect us abuse their powers then the concept of public safety goes out the window.  When there are situations in which the RCMP act in a manner that goes against their job description then that act is considered to be a form of police deviance, and the officer(s) who commit(s) that act must be held accountable. According to Maurice Punch (2009, p 91) accountability is essential to policing because it make police work legitimate which in turn is absolutely necessary in a democratic society. However many people believe that the amount of accountability placed on RCMP officers is not enough. For example Dennis O’Connor suggests that the accountability mechanisms are having difficulty keeping up with the transformation of the policing organization into a high police organization, “ existing accountability and review mechanisms for the RCMP’s national security activities are not adequate in large part because of the evolution and increased importance of that national security role.” (Dennis O’Connor). This is just one reason that RCMP accountability is being scrutinized by the public. Here are two articles that illustrate some of this issue RCMP accountability a longstanding issue and Shoddy policing and accountability show RCMP in B.C have learned very little. Another major aspect of accountability is the complaints mechanisms, which allow the public to hold certain officers accountable.

Complaint mechanisms are what the public uses to launch complaints against officers who have violated any of the rights or freedoms that belong to a citizen or citizens. These complaint mechanisms are important in regards to police deviance because they give an outlet to the public to launch their complaints, and thus make sure that the complaints are heard. One example of a complaint mechanism available to the public is the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. The form of accountability has changed in the last several years, going from a form of internal accountability, which belonged to the police, to an external form of accountability, which is now in the hands of the general public (Punch: 204). However; these complaint mechanisms are not perfect, there is still room for improvement. One way to improve these complaint mechanisms is to increase the public awareness of mechanisms. By improving complaint mechanisms we may see the faith in the agency begin to slowly be restored.

Over the past few years there have been a number of incidents that have added fuel to the fire of police corruption and deviance. Some of these examples are better known than others. Perrott and Kelloway (2010 p. 123) mention some of these cases in their article, which include the “pension scandal” in which an officer was concerned about the mismanagement of the police force pension. The commissioner dismissed this claim, which resulted in a field day for the media, eventually evidence suggested there had been mismanagement of funds and this resulted in criticism of the senior members of the RCMP. As a result a Task force was created to strengthen RCMP accountability, it was referred to as the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. Another case mentioned by Perrott and Kelloway occurred on October 14, 2007, which involved 4 police officers using what most people would consider an unreasonable amount of force to take down a disgruntled man by the name or Robert Dziekanski who had just arrived in Canada. The officer’s tasered Dziekanski a minimum of 4 times, who eventually died as a result. This incident brought the RCMP under heavy fire internationally. Another case not mentioned in the article is the McGuire case. These incidents are only some of the contributing factors in the public’s distrust of law enforcement agencies.

Perrott and Kelloway also conducted a study of workplace violence, which included the RCMP and municipal police forces. The study used a questionnaire to collect the data. The questionnaires were distributed in small groups and were mailed out. They also used anonymity in regards to the identity of the officer answering the questionnaire. The results of this survey showed that the RCMP showed lower levels of perceived control and workplace autonomy compared to municipal police. It also should that female officers showed they received more support from the courts compared to their male counterparts. In regards to psychological strain, the study revealed that RCMP officers feel more psychological strain compared to municipal officers (129). Lastly in the category of psychosomatic symptoms the study shows RCMP officers “reported more physically based symptoms” compared to municipal officers. This study is important because it may help us better understand the reasoning behind police deviance. Any one or all of the numerous findings listed in the study could factor into this, whether it be lack of support from courts and superiors, lower levels of commitment in male officers, and feeling of lack of control in the work environment.

In a report written by Peter Van Loan (Minister of Public Safety) on the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP , Van Loans report ( 2008 – 2009 p.12) suggests that there has been a 34.5% increase in the amount of reports that are received and handled by CPC (Commission for Public Complaints) in the past few years. Van Loan states that all complaints launched against the RCMP made by the public are handled by the CPC. The report also indicates that the CPC has also improved not only the effectiveness of complaints and review units, but also the efficiency they work in. Van Loan argues that in order to have an effective complaint mechanism the public needs to be made more aware of these mechanisms and the CPC. Although there has been a slight improvement in the complaints mechanisms there is still lots of room for improvement, the public needs to be more aware of these mechanisms in order for them to be effective. The 34.5% increase in reports received and handled by the CPC, and the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP are steps in the right direction in restoring the publics faith in the RCMP.

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    An article of interest, regarding differences between RCMP accountability structures and those of the Calgary Police, from the perspective of the former chair of the RCMP CPC: http://www.thestar.com/Opinion/EditorialOpinion/article/1082953 .

  2. Mike Larsen says:

    This is an informative post.

    Given your discussion of the internal dynamics of the RCMP, you might find this story to be of interest: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/11/07/bc-rcmp-harassment-galiford.html .

    As you know, discussions about reforms to the RCMP accountability arrangements are ongoing. Reform legislation was tabled during the last session of Parliament.

    A few issues of particular concern are at the heart of these debates:

    1. Should the RCMP CPC (or the new RCMP Review and Complaints Commission) be a reactive organization, charged with responding to public complaints, or a combination reactive / proactive organization able to self-initiate reviews of RCMP practices?

    2 Should the CPC or a new Review and Complaints body have an absolute right to access all information held by the RCMP, or are there reasonable limits that should apply?

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these issues.

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