I had always shied away from criticising the police because I erroneously believed that anyone who criticizes the police is against policing. Anytime someone showed me advance of wide- spread corruption, I ‘closed my eyes.’ I honestly believed that anytime a police officer is caught for his/her deviant behaviour only that particular police officer is at fault; not the entire police subculture. Even though I am not ready to completely shun the “rotten apples” theory, I have started to ‘open my eyes.’ I have found an umpteen amount of evidence that shows police subculture ‘breeds’ corruption. We, as a society, need to start asking ourselves tough questions about the ‘dark’ side of policing. Policing is a great profession; we must find ways to improve it.
On October 13, 2007, at 3:15pm Robert Dzienkanski arrived at Vancouver International Airport (YVR); his flight had been delayed by two hours. He had made plans to meet with his mother at the baggage claim. Sadly, that plan never came to fruition. Since Dzienkanski spoke no English, he needed help in filling out an umpteen amount of forms. After he had completed the formalities, his whereabouts remained unclear, however. He was seen around the baggage carrousels at several points acting irrationally. Due to the language barrier Dziekanski was forced to wait in the immigration area for seven hours. When he decided to leave, he was re-directed to secondary immigration because his visa had not been approved. After spending some time in the secondary immigration area, he became visibly agitated and distraught. The staff was unable to calm him down due to the language barrier; the RCMP was called to the scene soon after. Four RCMP officers arrived shortly thereafter and took charge of the scene. The police officers tried to communicate with Dzienkanski in a foreign language, he could not understand. The officers had only been on scene for 25 seconds, when, the supervisor, Corporal Benjamin Robinson ordered the use of the Taser. The RCMP alleged that the Taser was deployed because Dzienkanski tried to attack one of the officers with a stapler; Dzienkanski was Tasered five times, and fell to the ground. Shortly thereafter, he began to convulse on the ground. At no time did the officers render first-aid or call Emergency Health Services (EHS). Finally, when EHS arrived on scene 15 minutes later, Dzienkanski was pronounced dead on arrival. The RCMP claimed proper protocol had been followed, however. A video shot by one of the witnesses poked holes into the RCMP’s theory; much to the RCMPs disapproval. This video was only released after a court order. It was this video that captivated the entire nation against the use of police brutality.
After his death, the RCMP was adamant that their officers had followed protocol. It was only after the video of the incident was released the public saw what had really happened; unknowingly, this video ‘opened the door’ to a host of RCMP’s problem. This video was the main catalyst behind the Braidwood Inquiry; this public inquiry was set-up to investigate what happened that unfaithful day.
To this day some people argue that the police should be able to ‘bend’ or manipulate the law because they have “hard” job. The premise of this statement is fundamentally wrong in our society; no-one is above the law. Even though Dzienkanski’s death was clearly a criminal act perpetuated by the police officers, none of them were charged; even after intense public uproar, nothing happened. This lead to a fundamental debate in our society: should the police investigate themselves? Some emphatically support this notion because they feel police are ‘upholders’ of the law and will be objective to their findings. However, I feel this is ideology is flawed for three reasons: there is often a conflict with the official paradigm and operational paradigm, “blue wall” of silence inhabits objectivity, and often times it is a systemic institutional failure.
“[O]fficial paradigm is shaped to bolster institutional values, whereas the operational code espouses how things ‘really get done” (Maurice Punch 2009: 3). This situation is a classic example of this conflict. Immediately after the incident the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Team (IHIT) deliberately released information that would have shown their officers in a favourable light (Braidwood 2010: 41). When the officers were asked by the Braidwood Inquiry to give their version of events, the four RCMP officers stated that “they felt threatened.” The officers also claimed that Dzienkanski became “aggressive and moved towards [them].” However, after looking at the video anyone can tell that this was a lie. As a result, the officers were eventually charged with perjury. This lie was in direct violation of their institutional core values. Most RCMP officers still believe that the officers involved in Dziekanski’s death did the right thing under the circumstances because Dziekanski did not follow the officer’s orders. In my opinion, it is well-known that police officers are usually taught by the ‘book’ in the police academy, and when the recruit comes in contact with a field trainer, he is taught to ‘throw-out’ whatever he learned in the academy. When an officer is on the job, he is usually taught be his peers that if anyone challenges his authority he better put the ‘perp’ in his place; this is more commonly known as “contempt of cop” . As much as police officers would like to think “contempt of cop” is a crime, the reality is that it is not; the courts have been firmly against this notion, as well. For example, a recent court decision by an Ontario Court found that “it is not against the law to be rude to an officer”. The disparities between the official paradigm and operational paradigms need to be looked at, if we, as a society, are to move forward in the 21st century.
The public has often debated whether the “blue wall” of silence inhibits objectivity? In my opinion, the “blue wall” does hamper objectivity; in fact, this holds police agencies together (Punch 2009: 37). Entire police culture is based on this notion. Any officer that breaks this rule is dealt with severely. For example, when a NYPD officer, Serpico, spoke out against the wide spread corruption within his organization, he was vilified by his colleagues. Even when officers are take part in criminal activities, no-one says anything. For example, the four officers caught on tape Tasering Dzienkanski for no reason were never charged. Not a single officer came forward to testify against the officers involved; these officers Tasered another human being with 50,000 volts of electricity and were never charged. The RCMP was keen to argue that Tasers do not kill. However, the Braidwood Inquiry found that Tasers do kill people; the courts concurred. The company that manufactures these Tasers, Taser International, stated that Tasers are safer than high school sports. The only reason these officers were caught because we live in new era of ‘visible policing.’ “Video capture of images for mass dissemination, repeat viewing and popular debate enables mass mobilization of affect and discussion…” (Andrew Smith Goldsmith 2010: 925).
Some people erroneously believe that it is always a few ‘rouge’ officers that are to blame; just like me. After doing some extensive research, I have found that this statement holds no merit. History has repeatedly shown that the entire institution is usually to blame. For example, when Ian Tomlinson was killed in the 2009 G20 riots in the UK, the police stated that Tomlinson was to blame for his own death. The police had stated that he died due to a sudden heart attack, however. After several post-mortems, the police’s theory on how he died was shown to misleading. The report concluded that Ian Tomlinson died because of “blunt force trauma.” There was public outcry once a video of the incident had been released. Evidence has shown that once a police officer becomes part of a police organization, his views start to transform into the institutions ‘views;’ no-one comes into policing with a deviant mind, it is over time that his views start to shift. For example, a newly sworn police officer will do everything by the ‘book’ at the start of his career. However, as his/her career progresses temptation and peer pressure will usually lead him/her towards deviancy. This is more commonly known as “inclusion.” Once an officer goes down this road the pathway towards a deviant career becomes easier and easier (slippery slope). Therefore, it is ‘ill-advised’ to blame individuals for their deviant behaviours; it is the entire system that is corrupt.
The Dzienkanski incident was a PR ‘nightmare’ for the RCMP; they failed miserably in trying to fix their ‘broken’ system. The RCMP even took the Braidwood Inquiry to court saying that had to right in “issuing findings of misconduct” because the provincial inquiry was outside its jurisdiction. However, the court ruled against the RCMPs favour. Under the RCMP Act a provincial government does not have any powers when it comes to holding the RCMP accountable; any disciplinary actions against the RCMP must come from Ottawa. Even though a new twenty year agreement has been signed with the B.C. government, this was one of the main reasons why province wanted the RCMP out.
The Dziekanski incident was just the ‘tip of the Iceberg’ for the RCMPs problems. Just recently, an undercover RCMP officer in Kelowna was caught on video kicking a suspect in the face while he was in the process of surrendering. Also, a female RCMP member stated that she had been sexually harrassed by her superiors. With a new RCMP Commissioner getting sworn-in on the basis of “accountability,” the force needs to ‘look’ seriously at the issues at hand. The RCMP has tried a civilian as its commissioner. I think it is time for the RCMP to try a civilian investigatory body other than the . This is the only way the RCMP will gain back the public trust which they have lost over last ten years.
Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption. Portland, Oregan: Willan Publishing.
Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policing’s new visibility. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 914-934.