Archive for the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Pop culture has long since glorified the deviant practice of the law enforcement officer who does whatever it takes to get the job done. This is predominant in many of our favorite movies and T.V. shows such as Bad Boys, The Fast and Furious, and even more so Walking Tall. All these of these movies are great examples of officers who put the rules aside for the “greater good”. Deviance is defined as the fact or state of departing from usual or accepted standards. To better understand the extent to which the media is able to normalize these practices, I will further explain using the film “Walking Tall”.

Walking Tall is the story of ex U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant named Chris Vaughn. After returning from duty to his small town in Washington, he finds that the local mill, once the town’s main source of economic sustainability, has been shut down. Looking for a chance to relax, his old friends take him to the casino which is run by former mill owner Jay Hamilton. After checking out the building Chris Vaughn plays craps and notices the dice are “loaded”. Making it publically known he causes an outcry in the casino with staff. This instigated a fight and after beating down several guards with a piece of lumber he is subdued by a tazer. Vaughn is then taken outside, beat down, and cut up on his stomach with a blade. He attempts to press charges with the local sheriff’s department, but they advise him it is not in his best interests because the casino is now sustaining the economy. A trial ensues and at the end of it Vaughn makes a statement about the town’s former self, and if he is cleared of his charges he will clean up the town and run for sheriff. Later in the movie we find out that Jay Hamilton has shutdown the mill to fund his drug dealing operation. He is moving large quantities of methamphetamine and cooking it in the mill. This is unknown to now sheriff Vaughn who knows the drugs are coming from somewhere and suspects Hamilton to be the number one suspect. While in charge as sheriff, he pesters Hamilton by pulling him over and has him watch as Vaughn strips every piece of metal off his truck. Although Vaughn had no right to search or stop him he did it anyway. After getting intel from a ex stripper at the casino Vaughn finds out that Hamilton is the source of drugs. Again Vaughn makes a road side stop and pulls over Hamilton in his new Porsche. Vaughn makes numerous threats about giving up the drugs and the manufacturing whereabouts, but Hamilton does not budge. On the way back to Vaughn’s vehicle he states that Hamilton should get his tail light fixed, then proceeds to club the tail light with the same lumber from the casino incident. Once the whereabouts of the manufacturing of the drugs is found Vaughn is set into action. In a sequence of events there is a barrage of bullets flying around where multiple of Hamilton’s henchmen die and ultimately Hamilton is arrested and jailed. In a later scene the mill is up and running again and the mill is shut down.

This film is an excellent representation of what (Punch, 2009) would call the “Dirty Harrys” of policing. These are the law enforcement officers who are committed to the cause of policing, but will implement any practices necessary, even if it means breaking the law. In Walking Tall Vaughn attempts to rid the town of drug use and drug trade. He does this my implementing practices that would question and break the laws of due process. Although he is aware of this practice his attitude is still that of “getting the job done”. A good representation of this is when Vaughn pulls over Hamilton in his Porsche, and proceeds to smash in his tail light, and then states that’s why he got pulled over. There is another scene in the movie where Vaughn, after finding out the sheriffs will not allow him to press charges , decides to take matters into his own hands. He charges into the casino and man handles many of Hamilton’s henchmen with his signature piece of lumber. This act certainly refers to what (Punch, 2009) would call a “Cowboy”. Cowboys are “highly aggressive officers committed to a macho police identity; undisciplined and action oriented” (Punch, 2009). Often times in the film Vaughn thinks with his muscles and not his head. This is the cause of many of his confrontations and fights that breakout. These definitions help us to understand further why some officers engage in what we know as deviant acts. Although in the end the officer may get the outcome desired, the route taken is not the correct in the eyes of the law and due process.

Hollywood loves to portray law enforcement officers as action packed hero’s who always save the day. Their daily events involve running around the city, shooting their guns, beating up bad guys, and making arrests. Films involving these scenes create an illusion for the public that this is very similar to that of real policing. Although these events do happen, the average officer rarely uses their firearm. (Crawford, 1999) Says, “Police in all cities kill rarely, but at widely varying rates. The average Jacksonville police officer would have to work 139 years before killing anyone. In New York City, the wait would be 694 years. It would be 1,299 years in Milwaukee and 7,692 years in Honolulu, all based on the 1980-84 rates of killing”. So therefore Hollywood isn’t 100% wrong in depicting these scenes, they are just wrong with how frequently they occur with individual officers. Another misleading fact popular culture provides to the public is that it is the often the regular beat officer who engages in many investigations and makes all the arrests. While this is true in some cases, most crime is solved by investigation teams, about 95% actually (Crawford, 1999). Misconceptions from popular culture have the ability to skew the minds of the consumer. Because of this many individuals have an unrealistic reality of actual police work. I myself have even been victim to this. Before starting to investigate on many of these topics covered I always assumed that police had the power to do almost whatever they wanted. After recently attending a few ride alongs with local RCMP I found out just how much procedure is involved with stopping, arresting, and detaining a person. I also realized how different a regular beat officers day to day is. It often involves driving around, checking license plates, and responding to calls with no real suspect. This shows just how far popular culture will go to create an audience.

Popular Culture depicting law enforcement has long since been on top of the film world. With the “Dirty Harry’s” leading the way, I can’t see this changing anytime soon. People love a hero who can get the job done no matter what it takes. So where we can go from here is to accept the fact media is one way and real life is another, and in time with any luck, the public will be able to separate fact from fiction.





Crawford, C. (1999). Law Enforcement and Popular Movies: Hollywood as a Teaching Tool in the Classroom. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture , 46-57.
Punch, M. (2009). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing. 18-52.

In this unit, we are studying deviance and accountability in high policing. The unit focuses on two case studies – the actions of the RCMP during 1960s and 1970s (in particular, the ‘dirty tricks’ campaign) that led to the creation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and the actions of Canadian policing and security agencies in the post-September 11 context that contributed to the kidnapping and torture of Maher Arar and other Canadians.

For this week’s ‘food for thought’ question, I would like to introduce another case study – the PROFUNC campaign associated with high policing during the Cold War. CBC prepared a report on the PROFUNC campaign and produced a documentary for the Fifth Estate program. Here is a synopsis:

It seems hard to imagine today that a Canadian government would approve a plan to round up thousands of law-abiding Canadians and lock them away simply because they were perceived to be a threat to Canadian democracy.

Conceived in the early days of the Cold War, the top-secret plan called “Profunc” was to be enacted if Canadian national security was threatened. The fear was stoked by the outbreak of the Korean War, which looked as if it might become the precursor to WW3.

In Canada, the head of the RCMP drew up a plan to lock up “Prominent Functionaries,” including known communists and other people deemed to be subversives. The plan is breathtaking in its scale and detail. It listed those who were to be arrested, where they would be interned and how they were to be treated. Families of targeted people were not spared: many wives and children were to be locked away as well.

Incredibly, The Profunc blueprint remained in place until the 1980s. Only today are some people learning for the first time that they and their families were deemed Enemies of the State. The names of those people will astonish most Canadians.

“Enemies of the State’ also explores the targeting of possible ‘subversives’ today and asks what kinds of lists might exist that the Canadian public doesn’t know about.

Food for thought:

1. Watch the CBC Fifth Estate ‘Enemies of the State’ program.

2. Write a post that situates PROFUNC in relation to our exploration of police deviance and accountability.

Specifically, your post should address whether and to what extent the PROFUNC program represents an example of police deviance, and if so, how we can understand this form of deviance (you could draw on Punch 2009 or other resources). The question is more challenging than it may first appear, because the PROFUNC program was initiated and authorized by the federal government.

This post is due by the end of the day on April 10

In this unit, we are studying deviance and accountability in the context of public order policing. Our case study is the Toronto 2010 G20.

You have an option for this unit’s ‘food for thought’ question – you may respond to question 1 or question 2.

Food for Thought Question 1

Prepare a written response to Gord Hill’s depiction of the events surrounding the Toronto 2010 G20, from the Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book (excerpt distributed in class) Your response should provide your impression of this representation of the G20, comments on ‘issues arising’, and a reflection on aspects of police deviance and accountability depicted.

Food for Thought Question 2

Watch the CBC Fifth Estate documentary “You Should have Stayed at Home”.

Prepare a written response to the documentary. Your response should provide your impression of this representation of the G20, comments on ‘issues arising’, and a reflection on aspects of police deviance and accountability depicted. Your response should include commentary on the implications of the title statement – ‘you should have stayed at home’.

Responses should be submitted by the end of the day on April 5.

We are spending a week (alas, only one) studying police deviance and accountability in the context of private policing or ‘commodified social control’.

Here are the abstracts for our two classes:

 One of the most pressing issues driving research on police deviance and accountability is the ongoing ‘pluralization’ of policing associated with the expansion of the private security field and the blurring of boundaries between public and private policing. The governance framework for private security – from recruitment and training to accountability and oversight – is multifaceted and uneven. In this class, we will examine forms of deviance associated with private policing, drawing on the PIVOT Legal Society report on private security in Vancouver.

Reading: PIVOT Legal Society (2009). Security Before Justice: A study of the impacts of private security on homeless and under-housed Vancouver residents


In this class, we will concentrate on the debates surrounding accountability for private policing and security. We will consider the differences between approaches that regard private policing as a commodified ‘club good’ and approaches that regard it as part of a broader ‘public good’. We will discuss the issue of values and ethics in the context of private security and consider accountability and regulatory mechanisms associated with private policing in Canada.

Reading: Van Buuren, J. (2010). “Private Security Ethics: Reintroducing Public Values”, in M. den Boer & E. Kolthoff (eds) Ethics and Security. The Hague: Eleven International Publishing, pp. 165-187.

 Food for Thought:

For this unit, I would like you to apply the ideas developed by Van Buuren in his analysis of private security ethics to the case study of private policing in the DTES prepared by Pivot. How can we use Van Buuren’s analysis to make sense of the findings of the ‘Security Before Justice’ report?

This is an open-ended question, and you can focus on themes that seem most important to you. There are a few points to bear in mind:

  • Remember – you are writing a post about two readings, but you must prepare it in a way that it is understandable to persons who have not read the material. Be sure to ‘unpack’ and clarify concepts. Provide citations where appropriate.
  • Do not attempt to be exhaustive, or to work through the readings point-by-point. Give both texts a thorough reading, take note of key points, and write your post about these.

This post is due by the end of the day on March 26.

This unit is dedicated to the exploration of police brutality and the use of excessive force. We have approached this complex and diverse topic area from several angles – Van Maanen’s discussion of ‘street justice’, Klockars’ exploration of the ‘Dirty Harry Problem’, and the Braidwood Inquiry’s investigation into RCMP Taser use.

We do not, at present, have valid, reliable, and comprehensive data on police brutality in Canada. The absence of comparative data makes it difficult to identify trends and patterns, and to determine the scope of the problem. It also means that investigations into police brutality tend to focus on events, as opposed to systemic factors. Allegations regarding the problem of police brutality are too-easily dismissed as reflections of ‘one-off incidents’ and ‘bad apples’.

Food for Thought:

Put yourself in the position of a criminologist who is competing for a major research grant to explore the nature and prevalence of police brutality in British Columbia. You need to develop a research project that will allow you to effectively address your research question.

Write a short overview of a research design that would allow you to determine the nature and prevalence of police brutality in BC. Your post should be written as a ‘pitch’ (as in, I propose to …, my study will …).

It should:

  • Briefly identify and explain the phenomenon in question (police brutality)
  • Outline a program of research that will allow you to determine the nature and prevalence of police brutality in BC. How do you propose to ‘get at’ this phenomenon? What research methods and data sources will be consulted?
  • Conclude with a brief statement about why your project should receive funding.

Your post must be submitted by the end of Thursday, March 14.

In this unit, we are studying discriminatory policing practices. Our first two classes focus on racial profiling and the causes and consequences of discriminatory policing in Canada.

As it happens, our engagement with these topics coincides with a heightened level of media coverage and public conversation regarding discriminatory policing in British Columbia. One of the events responsible for this latest surge of interest was the release of the Human Rights Watch report Those Who Take Us Away, which focuses on the experiences of Aboriginal women in Northern BC communities.

From Human Rights Watch:

The 89-page report documents both ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls in the north from violence and violent behavior by police officers against women and girls. Police failures and abuses add to longstanding tensions between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and indigenous communities in the region, Human Rights Watch said. The Canadian government should establish a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls, including the impact of police mistreatment on their vulnerability to violence in communities along Highway 16, which has come to be called northern British Columbia’s “Highway of Tears.”

The report has received considerable coverage in the Canadian news media. Many of these media outlets offer the opportunity for members of the public to post comments in response to news stories. While it is important to recognize that we cannot claim that the opinions expressed in these forums are representative of Canadian public opinion, they do offer us an interesting window into some of the prominent ideas and narratives that characterize conversations about policing and discrimination.


Food for Thought:

  1. Identify an online newsmedia article that (a) discusses the Human Rights Watch report and (b) allows for public comments. Provide a short description of the article content, and include an active hyperlink to the article page.
  2. Review the comments posted in response to the article, and write a commentary about the key themes that emerge. What do these comments tell us about public reaction to the specific allegations made in the Human Rights Watch report? What do they tell us about public perceptions of the relationships between police organizations and Aboriginal communities? Include excerpts from posted comments to illustrate your arguments.
  3. Conclude your post with a comment of your own that you would post in response to the article you have selected.

This post is due on or before March 5.

This unit is dedicated to the study of ‘pathways into corruption’. We will discard the straightforward distinction between ‘good cops’ and ‘bad cops’ and consider the process of ‘becoming bent’ – the psychological, social and organizational factors that contribute to a slide into deviance.

One of the most important tools for making sense of pathways into corruption is neutralization theory – first introduced by Sykes and Matza (1957, based on Sutherland’s earlier work on differential association), and later adapted by Cohen (2001) (among many others).

Sykes and Matza (1957) are interested in the rationalizations and justifications that persons engaged in deviant behaviour use to neutralize the moral binds that would otherwise restrict them from acting. They propose (p.666):

It is our argument that much delinquency is based on what is essentially an unrecognized extension of defenses to crimes, in the form of justifications for deviance that are seen as valid by the delinquent but not by the legal system or society at large.

Building on this work (as well as the psychoanalysis and human rights literatures), Cohen (2001) offers a detailed theory of denial. In summarizing Sykes and Matza, he notes that vocabularies of denial and rationalization function (p. 6)

“after the fact to protect the individual from both self-blame and blame by others, and before the act to weaken social control – and hence make delinquency possible. Between contemplating the act and doing it, the anticipated social disapproval by significant audiences must be neutralized or deflected”

Theories of neutralization and denial can help us to explain how police engaged in deviant activities operate as ‘creatures in between’ (Punch 2009), using rationalizations and euphemisms to make sense of the dissonance that arises from simultaneously occupying the position of law enforcer and law breaker.

Food for thought:

Assume that you occupy a position of authority within a police accountability office (this could be internal – a professional standards office, or external – a civilian complaints or investigation body).

  • How would your understanding of neutralization theory shape your approach to individual instances of police wrongdoing?
  • How could you use neutralization theory to implement some proactive measures to prevent police wrongdoing?

The deadline for this post is Thursday, Feb 21.