Posts Tagged ‘police deviance and accountability’

The Shield: Police Corruption and What it Teaches us

The Shield, an American drama series premiering March 12, 2002, is notoriously known for its reoccurring theme of police corruption and misconduct. This is a popular series focusing on a group of detectives from the LAPD called the Strike Team, which is essentially portrayed as an anti-gang division. The Strike Team is lead by detective Vic Mackey, a crude man that promotes his unethical and deviant police problem-solving tactics which include excessive force, lying, and stealing, among others, with the intention of protecting his team, prosecuting criminals, and maintaining order on the streets. Even focusing on the first episode only, there are several examples of Vic demonstrating police deviance and misconduct that are presented and dealt with in a way that infers it is not out of the norm.

Vic is first introduced chasing a suspect alongside other officers. Once cornered, the suspect surrenders prompting a punch in the stomach from Vic for “making [him] run”, displaying clear police brutality. The next time we see him he’s lying to his department about an offender’s complaint against him of excessive force (in this case, involving a pair of pliers). His denial was followed by him stating that his team will back him up as well. Later on while looking for information, Vic runs into a well-known prostitute with who he exchanges a bag of drugs (recently confiscated from a dealer) for information. A major theme within this team, especially promoted by Vic, is that, to quote him, “Team comes first. We take care of each other” , and “We’d kill to protect each other.” This code strays away from the ideal fundamental principals that the officers of British Columbia operate, such as democracy & the rule of law, safeguarding the public trust, justice and equality (British Columbia Code of Ethics, 2011).

Vic later, as a last resort, joins the interrogation team and has a one-on-one sit down with a suspected pedophile in hopes of revealing of a little girl, Jenny Reborg. Following his statement “Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop”, Vic struck him in the throat and begins beating him with a phone book. Vic successfully obtained his confession via his old school, and clearly illegal, interrogation tactics. Whilst watching Vic beat the suspect through the window, one of the female detectives speaks on the topic of police use of excessive force: “What people want these days is to make it to their car without getting mugged…finding out a murderer is caught…if all that means that some cop roughed up some n****r or sp*c in the ghetto, well as far as most people are concerned, it’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. How do you figure on changing that?” None of his team members observing through the one-way mirror spoke out about the incident.

The last few minutes of the episode ends with the strike team doing a raid of a suspected drug dealers house; this raid included detective Terry Rowley who was new to the department and a rookie to raid assignments. After shooting the drug dealer in the bathroom who was flushing his stash, there was no longer any perceived danger. Vic turns around and shoots his collegue Terry Crowley in the face. He was pronounced dead at 2:13pm. When confronted about the incident, Vic and his team are adamant that it was the drug dealer who shot detective Crowley in the face. It is revealed later that the detective was added to the team to “take Vic Mackey down”. The fact that none of Vic’s team members spoke out about this incident or any before it, enforces their code of “Team comes first. We take care of each other” and normalizes this behaviour. This only further encourages these kinds of actions; silence is the voice of complicity.

The police deviance and corruption typologies that Vic Mackey best exemplifies based on his actions in this first episode are those of the “meat-eaters” and the “Dirty Harrys” / “Noble Causers”, with a slight undertone of “Cowboys”. The “meat-eaters” fall under the Knapp Commission typology and they actively seek opportunities in which they can exchange their power for some kind of benefit (Punch, 2009). In Vic’s case, he displayed characteristics of a meat-eater when he exchanged drugs for information with the prostitute. “Dirty Harrys” / “Noble Causers” on the other hand, are officers that use deviant and unethical tactics in order to obtain their desired outcome (Punch, 2009). Vic proved to be a Dirty Harry when he unethically assaulted the pedophile suspect aiming for a confession. The “cowboys” are known for their high levels of aggression and propensity to act tough, lack discipline, and be action-focused (Punch, 2009), which Vic assumed the role of in the beginning of the show when he punched the suspect in the stomach for causing a chase.

This fictional portrayal of law enforcement officers focuses on their corruption and deviance, and places them in the antagonist position. This representation does not emanate positive, trust-worthy vibes to its audience. Its audience is majorly regular, non-police affiliated individuals who, after watching media portrayals such as this, do not walk away feeling a healthy and more trustworthy bond with law enforcement. Instead, because their only peak into what police conduct looks like has been through the lens of fictional media. There is a lot of negative stimuli being presented through the media pertaining to police corruption and deviance, the public sees a lot of it, and for those that have very little pre-existing knowledge or information , they may be influenced and that allows the potential for their perception towards law enforcement to change. The line between entertainment and reality becomes blurred.

Vic’s blatant displays of police deviance through abuse of authority, unethical practices, and use of excessive force illustrates model officer-deviant behaviour. These corruption-oriented, emphasized, and normalized media representations of law enforcement may have a potential impact on the audiences’ perception of positive and trustworthy qualities pertaining to police officer conduct. That potential blur between fiction and non-fiction holds the possibility of bruised perceptions and subsequent trust with the police.

IMBD.  (N.D). The Shield. Summary. Retrieved at

NA. (2011). British Columbia Code of Ethics. Course Material. Crim 2355

Punch, M. (2009.). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18-52). Portland: Willian Pub.

Roebuck, J.B. and T, Barker. (1974). A typology of Police Corruption. Social Problems 21(3): 423-437

[Mike Larsen: This post, authored by contributor paul552, is based on a research paper prepared for CRIM 2355 Police Deviance and Accountability at Kwantlen Polytechnic University]

The rise of the “information society” in the 20th century has opened the floodgates to mass “electronic surveillance”, the technique of monitoring private communications of individuals. This can be considered as one of the most powerful tools within the police arsenal as it helps them to identify and monitor suspects in modern crime-prevailing societies. In Canada, the Protection of Privacy Act was implemented in 1974 in order to protect the citizen’s right to privacy from police surveillance. Various police agencies display a particular interest in the classification and cataloguing of personal information collected from various populations. According to various scholars, surveillance techniques have evolved from individualized surveillance that characterized the beginning of the 20th century to mass surveillance that is utilized in late modern societies (Loftus & Goold, 2012, p.275-276). After the September 11 attacks there was a shift in the landscape of policing as proactive and intelligence-led approaches to crime control were adopted as opposed to the traditional method of reactive policing. The import of risk rationale and surveillance technologies is a source of ongoing change in policing, and increasingly underpins policing practices, and these proactive and intelligence-led approaches target particular people, locations and behaviours in a systematic way utilizing an arsenal of sophisticated sources of intelligence and surveillance techniques (Loftus & Goold, 2012, p.276).

The highly controversial internet surveillance bill know as Bill C30, recently proposed by the Harper government, sparked public outrage and concern as it entrusted the police with certain powers such as the mandatory release of information about Internet subscribers to them including names, addresses, email addresses and other means of identification without the need for a warrant (Bill C30 is no loss, 2013). A large number of Canadians opposed the Bill as they felt that it would constitute a serious intrusion of privacy and eliminating the need for police to obtain warrants could lead to an alarming potential of abuse of these new powers. The government took into account the public concern and acted upon it by discarding the highly controversial internet snooping bill. In Canada the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the provincial Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioner published a set of standardized quasi-legal provincial and federal guidelines for using public-area video surveillance between 2001 and 2006 and these guidelines are based on undifferentiated municipal, provincial and federal privacy protection legislation, and consist of principles to assist federal, provincial and municipal institutions and law enforcement agencies in deciding whether the collection of personal information by means of video surveillance is justified and, if so, how to build privacy protection into monitoring programmes (Hier & Walby,2011, p.846). Though the guidelines have been addressed in most cities that developed surveillance programmes between 2001 and 2010, the implementation and enforcement of these guidelines remain inconsistent.

The accommodation of a Canada-wide privacy protection framework on the use of video surveillance by law enforcement agencies began with the initiation of privacy protection advocacy work in the province of Québec. In 1991, La Ligue des droits et libertés and the Commission d’accès à l’information (CAI) conducted an investigation into whether or not the Sherbrooke Police Service was collecting personal information on citizens and, if so, whether the collection of ‘nominative’ information was necessary to carry out law enforcement duties( Hier & Walby,2011, p.848). Although the police had installed cameras in 1989 to address violent crime, and police representatives claimed that there was a 22 percent decline in crime between 1989 and 1992, an independent investigation by La Ligue des droits et libertés shed light on the fact that in two years of operation, the videotapes had only been screened once or twice, and that the declining crime rate statistics were related to theft, driving offences, break and entries and not to violent crime( Hier & Walby,2011, p.848). The federal privacy commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski sent officers in 2001 to inspect the monitoring system of the RCMP in the city of Kelowna, British Columbia and found out that the program was in direct violation of the legislation as it involved the continuous recording of public activity, and he engaged in a constitutional challenge of public video-surveillance under the Charter due to the privacy violation involved (Bennett,2003, p.236).The challenge was rejected by the court and the court ruled that, as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, he did not have the legal authority to challenge the RCMP’s use of video surveillance, under the Charter.

Social media are online locations that are utilized by users who build profiles and share information with each other. Various police investigative agencies are constantly trying to exploit the interpersonal sociality that takes place here.

Police scrutiny includes exploiting social media interfaces as well as superseding them and investigators can access users’ personal details in a way that facilitates otherwise exceptional techniques (Trottier, 2012, p.412).The response to the 2011 riots in Vancouver depicts the extent to which police are adapting to the mass volume of information displayed on social media networks such as facebook. Names, descriptions and photographs of suspected rioters were submitted by the public to the police through facebook. Investigations conducted by the police benefitted from the myriad of photographs and videos that they had received and they even visited various facebook groups to search for further evidence. Comments made by VPD Sergeant Dale Wiedman such as they “have names of suspects before we know exactly what they did and where they did it” clearly indicates that people had become suspects without any reasonable doubt and identifying suspects before knowing “what they did” furthers preemptive policing as identification and judgment occur before any formal investigation takes place (Trottier, 2012, p.416). Such actions can lead to miscarriages of justice within the criminal justice system. The search features on social media sites such as facebook, allow the police to conduct interface-based investigation resulting in the gathering of evidence, by searching for identities, events, groups etc (Trottier, 2012, p.417).Though this kind of investigation is based on an individual interacting with another, it generally involves some degree of deception and the police can gather evidence from a user’s profile anonymously without making their presence known to that individual. The U.S. government is developing a “Persona Management Software” which allows investigators to manage several seemingly authentic fake profiles online which can be use to create an entirely fictional identity, or imitate a known colleague, although both approaches would violate Facebook’s terms of service thus resulting in the exploitation of interpersonal exchanges for investigative gain (Trottier, 2012, p.418). The case of R. v. Plant demonstrates a clear violation of citizens privacy rights by the the police, resulting in the unlawful access of personal information as well as the protection of personal information under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enforced by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court was faced with a situation in which the police had acquired online computer access to the local hydro company’s computer records and direct access to his home without a warrant and through this intrusion they had gathered information regarding the electrical consumption of a suspected hydroponic marijuana grower (Eddie, 2000, p.68). The defendant claimed that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the information pertaining to his hydro consumption and the Supreme Court ruled that though the seizure of consumption records was not in violation of section 8 of the Charter, the illegal search of his home violated his Charter rights.

Punch has constructed a typology of police officers based on their relationship to deviance and corruption. “The Dirty Harry” syndrome among certain police officers occurs when they believe that tough and devious tactics have to be used to achieve results such as arrests and confessions (Punch, 2009, p.24). These officers consider the law to be too lax and according to them such unorthodox methods have to be deployed to obtain convictions against the real bad guys. It is a necessary evil for them where they consider the “the ends to justify the means”. Privacy violations such as unlawfully accessing or exchanging personal information, committed by police officers who belong to this typology, consider the criminal justice system to be extremely tolerant and believe that criminals are exploiting the loop holes within the system. In the 21st century as economies are moving towards globalization, modern technology especially the internet facilitates the growth of cybercriminals who commit a wide range of criminal activities from anywhere within the world. Terrorists use the internet to publish online propaganda and actively seek new recruits online. Paedophiles use online technology to prey on vulnerable children. In such instances the Dirty Harry’s within police departments might believe that unorthodox tactics such as illegal wiretaps, unauthorized surveillance, keeping tabs or snooping through the internet without prior permission or legal authority and the unlawful exchange of such information can secure convictions and prevent the ‘bad guys’ from slipping through the cracks in the criminal justice system. The three-level typology of police/corruption explained by Maurice Punch can be used to explain the phenomenon of violation of citizen’s privacy rights by the police. Noble cause: combative (strategic) corruption, that comes under the broader context of deviance/corruption arising “within the police domain”, can explain the illicit means such as violating privacy rights, practised by police officers, to gain convictions against major criminals, terrorists and various gangs (Punch, 2009, p.29). Such officers believe that citizens have to give up certain privacy rights to guarantee their well being and safety and in order “for the greater good” to prevail in society. In the case of R. v. Wier, police in Alberta requested for an email message containing child pornography and the billing address of the owner, from the internet service provider who had found it, without the required warrant (Ismaili, Sprott, & Varma, 2012, p.342). This prompted the court to declare that the privacy rights of the accused had been violated as the transfer of the email to the police was considered to be a warrantless search and it breached section 8 of the Charter. This case depicts the fact that though the police wanted to do the right thing they broke the law to secure a conviction. In terms of accountability mechanisms in Canada, the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada acts an ombudsman’s office overseeing the compliance of the Privacy Act, which involves the information gathering practices of federal agencies such as the RCMP as well as the private sector (Bennett, 2003, p.225-226). This office lacks adequate funding and personnel and hence does not possess the infrastructure or resources required to address complains give by public regarding privacy violations or the power to take necessary action against the police.

In order to strengthen the accountability mechanisms surrounding privacy violations committed by police, the federal government has to delegate more personnel and resources to the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, to look into police deviance and provide necessary powers to take direct action against such officers involved. The creation of a new oversight body similar in structure to the Independent investigations office of BC or the SIU of Ontario, would be required to investigate serious misconduct or deviance involving privacy violations perpetrated by police officers. New legislations will be required to ensure the cooperation of police agencies with such an external review body during the course of investigations into allegations of police misconduct. The new organisation should have all the powers of a normal law enforcement agency which would include the right to lay criminal charges against officers who are found to have been engaging in misconduct involving privacy violations and be able to recommend organisational disciplinary actions, various policy reforms etc.

In Conclusion, police surveillance that was once focused on the individual suspect is now extended to cover a broader majority of the population and police agencies are increasing their efforts to exploit private information distributed through social media networks like facebook, through social media policing. Police officials who engage in such deviant behaviour belong to the “Noble cause corruption” typology as they believe that the “ends justifies the means”.


Bennett, Colin J. (2003). The privacy commissioner of Canada: Multiple roles, diverse expectations and structural dilemmas. Canadian Public Administration,46(2), 218-242. doi: 10.1111/j.1754-7121.2003.tb00913.x

Bill C30 is no loss. (2013). Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from

Eddie, G. (2000). E-mail, the Police, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Retooling Our Understanding of a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in the Cyber Age. International Review Of Law, Computers & Technology14(1), 63-78. doi:10.1080/13600860054908

Hier, Sean P., & Walby, K.(2011). Privacy pragmatism and streetscape video surveillance in Canada. International Sociology, 26(6), 844861.

doi : 10.1177/0268580910394007

Ismaili, K., Sprott, J. and Varma, K. (eds.) (2012). Canadian Criminal Justice Policy: Contemporary Perspectives. Toronto: Oxford University Press

Loftus, B., & Goold, B.(2012).Covert surveillance and the invisibilities of policing. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 12(3), 275-288.

doi: 10.1177/1748895811432014

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.

Trottier, D. (2012). Policing Social Media. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 49(4), 411-425. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-618X.2012.01302.x

In the case of NYPD officer Gilberto Valle and his partner Van Hise , I have found several typologies in which had lead both officers into court, with the FBI involved.

The Knapp Commission is known for having three distinct categories to describe the different classes of police officer corruption. In June 1970, Federal Judge Whitman Knapp began to do an investigation on the NYPD and concluded that there were police officers were breaking the law themselves for personal gain. He found out that police officers were unethical and instead of enforcing they law, officers would allow people to break the law, as long as the officers gained some sort of compensation or gain.

On January 24, 2013, an article was published in the Daily Mail in New York in which NYPD officer Gilberto Valle was nicknamed “Cannibal Cop”. Valle, a 28 year old officer was engaging in online chats with an individual whose user name was “Moody Blue” about how human flesh tasted and was planning how to prepare his next victim. Valle was debating on whether he wanted to put his targeted victim into the oven and baking her or cooking her on an open fire to extend her suffering. He had also been researching chemical formulas in which he could easily overtake his victims and kidnap them.

Gilberto Valle’s wife had found months of chats online in which Valle was engaged in fantasies of eating woman and children therefore she notified the FBI. Not only was Gilberto Valle charged with is charged with plotting to kidnap, torture, cook and eat at least 100 women and prosecutors, but his partner , Michael Van Hise also had charges laid against him. Hise was accused of trying to hire Valle for kidnapping a specific woman that he wanted to rape and kill. Hise was also taken to court because he was planning to use his stepdaughter as his personal sex slave, while sending pictures of his nieces online, offering them up for rape.

Maurice Punch separates police deviance into three categories; grass eaters, meat eaters and birds. Grass eaters are characterized as people who may accept bribes if given, but do not ask for them. The second category, meat eater, is when officers know of crimes being committed but do not penalize the individual as long as they make a cut from the funds. One example of this would be someone burning dvd’s and selling them in mass amounts. Although piracy is illegal, if the officer knows the individual is making a lot of money illegally, he may allow him or her to continue as long as the officer will receive a percentage every week.

I believe Valle would fit into is the meat eater category. This type of officer is one who takes advantage of their job and allows people to commit crimes as long as the officer gains money or materials. He allowed his online friend to continuously speak about the woman and children he claimed to be eating.

Along with the Knapp Comission, Barker and Roebuck created a list of eight ways police officers put their policing skills into practice. The one that stands out the most to me on Barker and Roebuck’s list is called “direct criminal activities”. This is when officers themselves, commit criminal activities. Valle allowed his online friend to engage in conversations which included kidnapping, raping, torturing and eating women and children. Not only did Valle allow his friend to speak about it, but Valle also engaged in planning to kill women using the police data base as a source to scope out victims. This is an example of Valle agreeing to commit a crime instead of stopping it. Along with committing direct criminal activities, Valle would also fall under the category of protecting illegal activities simply due to the fact that he had full knowledge that “Moody Blues” was constantly bragging about kidnapping and eating children, yet did not intend to arrest “ Moody Blues”. The prosecutor in this case, Mr. Randall Jackson, stated that Van Hise told an FBI agent that “he and Valle were ‘serious’ about their plans to kidnap and rape a woman “

Below is a direct quote from the conversations given to the court that the FBI had found on Valle’s computer. The FBI also found lists of women’s names under files saved as “Abducting and Killing ( victim name) : blue print.

“If we get someone..and we finish the meat early, would you go for another?’ wrote ‘Moody Blues’.

‘Yeah. think we would have to give it time though,’ replies Valle

‘Why? Go for a completely different type. I’d love to eat another child,’ countered ‘Moody Blues.’

Valle abused his power of authority as a police officer by looking up victims in the National Crime Database and accessing their confidential information. He targeted specific woman According to the court reports “Two of them claim to have been ‘stalked in an intimidating way’ by the police officer, who served in Harlem for six years”.

This case sets a good example of being a meat eater, because Valle did not arrest and charge “Moody Blues”, instead he gained a partner in which he could commit crimes with. He benefited from having “Moody Blues” around. It also shows that police are only human and sometimes make bad decisions, such as engaging in criminal activities themselves. Both Valle and Hise plead not guilty. The case will be heard in February.

ReferencesPunch, M. (2009). Police corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.–Cannibal-cop-accused-plotting-kidnap-wanted-girl-meat-Thanksgiving-dinner.html

A wrongful conviction can be understood as the conviction of an individual of a crime that person did not commit. The “crime that person did not commit” could refer to an “actual innocence” mistake (in which the convicted offender was not even involved in the actual crime), or it could refer to a “legal innocence” mistake (in which the convicted individual was involved in the crime to a different extent than the crime represented by the charge). The wrongful conviction of innocent people has gradually been recognized over the last quarter of a century as a problem for the Canadian criminal justice system. It is extremely difficult to determine the number of wrongful convictions in Canada. A situation where an individual is found to be legally guilty of a crime he or she did not commit; and the actual perpetrator is out free in the world. For a variety of reasons a person may be wrongfully convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and the only way to prove his or her innocence is in a court of law. One of the major aspects of wrongful convictions is the tunnel vision; it results when there is a narrow focus on a limited range of alternatives. Tunnel vision is insidious and it results in the police officer becoming so confused upon an individual or incident that no other person or incident register’s in the officer’s thoughts. Canadian wrongful conviction victims are: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger.

While conducting an initial Google search on the topic “The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada”, a number of interesting cases emerged. One of the result was a news article published by CBC news that highlights some major cases in Canadian history. This article has twelve cases and a brief description for each case and it is fairly recent because it was updated in October/2010.
An interesting case that was found during the preliminary research done on the topic is the case of Donald Marshall Jr case. The late Mr. Marshall was as a young Aboriginal man from Nova Scotia imprisoned 11 years for a murder he did not commit. The Marshall case was the subject of the first public inquiry into a wrongful conviction in Canada. The inquiry first raised awareness about wrongful convictions and it also made important recommendations about how to prevent them in the future.

Another interesting case was found is the case of Tammy Marquardt A young single mother from Ontario who was imprisoned for 13 years for the murder of her two and one half year son on the basis of erroneous forensic pathology expert testimony that the cause of her son’s death was asphyxia.

The term miscarriage of justice is not defined in legislation, but has been broadly defined by courts to include cases “where there was no unfairness at trial, but evidence was admitted on appeal that placed the reliability of the conviction in serious doubt. In these cases, the miscarriage of justice lies not in the conduct of the trial or even the conviction entered at trial, but rather in maintaining the conviction in the face of new evidence that renders the conviction factually unreliable.” Miscarriages of justice are not limited to cases of proven or factual innocence and include both cases where there have been unfair trials or the reliability of the conviction is in serious doubt. Justice Kaufman in an important report advising the Minister of Justice whether to reopen a conviction has stressed that a miscarriage of justice would occur both if an innocent person was convicted or if new evidence could reasonably have affected the verdict. In the latter circumstances “it would be unfair to maintain the accuser’s conviction without an opportunity for the trier of fact to consider new evidence.” Thus convictions in Canada can be both re-opened and quashed on grounds short of proven innocence. In my view, this is a strength of the Canadian system given the practical difficulties of establishing innocence in a definitive manner.

The various research that has been conducted on this topic primarily focuses on the phenomenon of tunnel vision, which Margaret Beare defines in her scholarly article Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop, “the single-minded and overly narrow focus on an investigation or prosecutorial theory so as to unreasonably color the evaluation of information received and one’s conduct in response to the information” (Margaret Beare, 2008, p.21).
The article “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop” is Margaret Beare’s research on a project undertaken with Dianne Martin that was still incomplete at the time of the latter’s sudden death. The objective was to asses the degree to which the police had or had not implemented recommendations for changes in police procedures made by inquiries, task, forces, commissions and auditor general’s reports. The recommendations are based on wrongful convictions. The over representation of judges and lawyers in the evaluating process and the privileging of legal knowledge over social science or other scholarships appear to be endemic. It is also easier to formulate languages like “tunnel vision” and systemic missteps to characterize weaknesses in the system than to provide concrete examples how to provide those in the future. There is a tendency to revert to blaming individuals or rotten apples despite having identified the whole system per as contributing to the wrong outcome.

The idea of Noble Cause Corruption is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. In other words, law enforcement is engaged in a mission to make our streets and communities safe, and if that requires suspending the constitution or violating laws ourselves in order to accomplish our mission, then for the greater good of society, so be it. The officers who adopt this philosophy lose their moral compass. This type of thinking is misguided and places the officer at risk of losing his/her job, facing criminal charges, and seriously damaging the reputation of their agency. Some examples include: lying in court to convict a suspect, also referred to as “testifying,” planting evidence on suspects, and falsifying reports. According to Beare, the noble cause corruption when the “justice officials – in the name of getting a conviction – are prepared to violate laws, Charter protections, and any number of ethical considerations” (Beare, 2008, p.33).

Margaret Beare makes an interesting point in regards to police officers assuming innocence until proven guilty. “We ought not to wonder at the number of cases where it is revealed that the police operated from an assumption of guilt, but rather question how a justice system could have been imagined whereby officers working daily for months or even years on a case-often a horrendous crime of some sort-could be expected to try to build cases while assuming innocence.” (2008, p.33). She also points out that the theme in all of these wrongful-conviction cases is that justice is a “game that you wrap to fit your preferences, or your unconscious biases.” Therefore “shop around” and select evidence, experts, and judges based on your specific agenda” (2008, p.33). Erroneous errors in police investigations have been one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions and that behind some of these errors is a deliberate attempt to get the guy that you know to be guilty. Margaret Beare argues that wrongful convictions are caused by other issues such as systemic problems within the criminal justice system itself. She also explains that these are “problems that won’t be fixed as long as the miscarriage of justice is treated as an isolated even…wrongful convictions don’t occur in a vacuum. There are systemic reasons they go wrong” (2008, p.29). However, using the word systemic does not cure the problem.

This topic “The role of police in wrongful convictions” relates to the idea around police deviance and accountability because Maurice Punch in his text Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing argues that corruption is not one thing but covers many deviant and criminal practices in policing which also shift over time. It rejects the ‘bad apple’ metaphor and focuses on ‘bad orchards’, meaning not individual but institutional failure. For in policing the organisation, work and culture foster can encourage corruption. This raises issues as to why do police break the law and, crucially, ‘who controls the controllers’? Corruption is defined in a broad, multi-facetted way. It concerns abuse of authority and trust; and it takes serious form in conspiracies to break the law and to evade exposure when cops can become criminals.

As the pace of DNA exoneration has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken – and how urgently it needs to be fixed. In 2001, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School analyzed the cases of 86 death row exonerees. They found a number of reasons why innocent people are wrongly convicted in capital cases. Also Marvin Zalman give other factors in wrongful convictions, included in their article “Criminal Justice System Reform and Wrongful Conviction”, Which describes the nature and importance of wrongful conviction as a criminal justice policy issue, the development of an innocence movement to litigate on behalf of potential exonerees and to promote policy issues, the innocence movement’s policy and research agenda, and the very small amount of criminal justice research on the issue in comparison to legal and psychological inquiry. Wrongful Conviction as a Policy Issue: This section describes the policy salience of wrongful conviction, the nature of the emerging innocence movement, the movement’s reform and research agenda, and the limited nature of innocence research by criminologists and criminal justice scholars. “Wrongful conviction is now an issue on the public agenda. The news media, long Supportive of prosecutors, are now sensitized to miscarriages of justice, and their Continuing reports of exoneration keeps the issue in the public eye”. (Tulsky, 2006; Warden, 2003). Marvin Zalman also makes a specific points about the civil cases, fair trial rights vindicate the truth, “while government misconduct is revealed as having concealed evidence of a Person’s innocence, leading to a gross miscarriage of justice” (Garrett, 2005, p. 38). As a result of the DNA revolution, it is now thought that wrongful convictions are so frequent as to constitute a major policy concern that poses a serious challenge to the fairness and accuracy of the Criminal justice process. This article has proposed a broad research agenda addressing the new innocence movement that works to clear wrongly convicted convicts and to generate and publicize policy changes that logically should reduce miscarriages of justice.

Wrongful convictions are an inherently difficult topic to study, but the increase in exonerations over the past two decades has accentuated the need for research on how and why wrongful convictions occur. The major factor contributing to the increased discovery of wrongful convictions has been the use of post-conviction DNA examinations. Exoneration using DNA evidence have been well publicized, whereas non-DNA exoneration have typically been difficult to track, but both are important in determining the major factors behind wrongful conviction.

In conclusion, there can be no greater failure of the Criminal Justice System than to convict an innocent person. Yet we know it happens, and with greater frequency than once believed. If one extrapolates from the 197 convicted persons exonerated by DNA of serious crimes in the U.S., and the small but growing number in Canada, it is only reasonable to assume that the actual number is far greater, because of the high number of cases where DNA was not available to assist in determining the truth. This is unacceptable. Fortunately, it is possible to greatly reduce the potential for wrongful convictions. In every Canadian case discussed earlier, serious, avoidable errors were made in the police investigations (as well as by other players in the Criminal Justice System). There is now considerable research on why investigative failures leading to wrongful convictions occur, which provides the road map to preventing them. Proper recruiting and training, implementation of the major case management model, fostering a culture of excellence in ethical investigations, and ongoing education into the causes of wrongful convictions and proper investigative techniques are necessary to create an environment in which only the guilty are convicted, not the innocent. A wrongful conviction not only hurts the individual convicted, it hurts society, both in terms of the true guilty party being allowed to remain free, but also in terms of the public’s confidence in the Criminal Justice System. The police play a pivotal role in this system, and must play a similarly significant role in working to prevent wrongful convictions. The question arises, what can we as a society to do help combat wrongful convictions? Can we do anything in regards to police training?


Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing

The War on Drugs and police corruption on their own are both controversial and important topics; but are they related? Is the War on Drugs tempting our police officers to be more corrupt?  Many would argue that it does in fact do that and in turn the War on Drugs does not fight or deter crime, it promotes it.

In 2002, 41 Tijuana officers were arrested for allegedly working with drug traffickers, protecting shipments of drugs, taking bribes and even for executions (Preston Preet, 2002).  Generally police officers are under paid for the services that they provide and it can be easy for them to fall victim to the criminal life because of the large sums of easy money it provides.  As Maurice Punch (2009) describes in his book “Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing” cops are just like any other normal person and can just as easily be lured into the temptation of easy money as a criminal could.

For many officers that are dealing with the War on Drugs it could become very frustrating seeing so many drug-dealers get arrested and go to prison to have the same amount come back out on the street the next day.  While the officers are trying to fight the War on Drugs they could feel that they, no matter what their efforts, are consistently being beaten.  This could eventually lead an officer to live a vigilante like life.  The officer might fabricate evidence or lie under oath just to try to put as many suspected drug-dealers away as her could – while his intentions are for the greater good, it is still a form of police corruption.

The debate on whether or not drugs should be decriminalized in North America has been an extremely controversial subject since the start of the War on Drugs. Many North Americans believe that the War on Drugs has failed and even most politicians, despite what most of them might say in public, would agree.  Recently the Global Commission released a report stating “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won” (CBC New, 2011).  The Global Commission proposes that the United States decriminalizes drugs, especially marijuana, as it will weaken organized crime and corruption within the government and police force (CBC News, 2011).  Follow the link to watch the full report from CBC

The reason much of society claims that the War on Drugs is not working is because drug use is increasing as well as corruption (CBC News, 2011).  In comparison to countries such as the Netherlands, where drugs are decriminalized the United States has a higher percentage in drug use (Chambliss, 1995).  With more corruption and higher drug use in the United States than in countries where they do not fight drugs it is hard to believe that the War on Drugs is in fact effective.

Corruption is a big part of why the War on Drugs needs to be reconsidered.  It is difficult for police officers to not fall to temptation of the drug trade because of the exposed opportunities (Sullivan, 2008).  Cops are just like any other people and are subject to temptation by large sums of money (Punch, 2009).  The reason that this becomes difficult for them is because criminals and cops begin to share the same environment and same surroundings; the police may even become friends with criminals (Punch, 2009).  It is not uncommon for an undercover officer to go to the other side because of the environment they become accustomed too (Punch, 2009).  Drug unit officers are most likely the ones to fall victim to temptation because of the large seizures of drugs and money they are consistently around (Sullivan, 2008).  Corruption within the drug unit usually consists of stealing drugs and selling them for profit, stealing money, as well as illegal searches and seizures (Sullivan, 2008).  Drug enforcement officers are typically the most vulnerable to bribes because of the large amounts of money involved (Sullivan, 2008).  By way of illustration in 1995 in the state of Washington there were 77 officers with charges against them for drug offences (Sullivan, 2008).  That is a substantial amount of a police force to have charges laid against; however, these are the ones that were caught, never mind the amount that managed to stay under the radar.  Ultimately, the War on Drugs makes it inevitable that some officers to accept bribes (Sullivan, 2008).

When police were protecting drug dealers there would be less murder and assaults and this led the community to believe that the police were doing a good job at protecting the streets from crime and that there was no drug market in their neighbourhood (Sullivan, 2008).  The ironic thing about this assumption is that they were preventing more violent crime by protecting the dealers.  The ultimately gave them a license to deal (Sullivan, 2008).

The War on Drugs leads to many different types of police deviance.  One of the most serious ones is the use of SWAT in house raids.  This is considered an extremely serious one because of the innocent people that end up frightened and sometimes killed because of them.  The SWAT will go into a house based on a “tip” they received from a neighbour suspecting drugs in the house (Balko, 2006).  The police deviance that results from these cases is the in proper procedure that is followed.  For example, in the raid on a young man’s home in Florida the warrant was a “knock and announce” which states that the police must knock and announce that it is the police before knocking down the door.  In this particular raid there is evidence that suggests that the police did not follow this procedure and it ended in the young man taking ten bullets (Balko, 2006).  This is only one of many examples of police misconduct in relation to raids.

One of the typologies commonly used to describe officers that go looking for opportunity in regards to corruption are called meat-eaters (Punch, 2009).  One of the first places that a meat-eater may go to look for an opportunity is the drug unit.  With the amount of opportunity the War on Drugs gives to the meat-eaters it would hard for them not to go there first when seeking out a potential gain.  There are many different ways that they could gain from it.  They could cooperate with the drug dealers in exchange for money, they could steal drugs and sell them for profit, they could steal money from seizures and that is just to name a few.

Sullivan (2008) notes that the current drug policies lead to corruption of our police departments and government officials and the CIA cooperated with the Medallion drug cartel in 1993 that was responsible for shipping one ton of cocaine into the United States; the most disturbing part is that the whole thing was swept underneath the rug and no CIA officials were charged.  There are many reported incidents of the CIA cooperating in the drug trade.  There is overwhelming evidence that suggests cooperation during the Vietnam War allowed the shipment and trade of opiate drugs.

The amount of money paid to fund the War on Drugs is outrageous and the time and effort spent by our law enforcement could be spent towards preventing and enforcing other laws.  For example, in 1992 68% of arrests in the United States were for drug offences and 36% of all prisoners for drug offences were for low level offences and had no previous record (Sullivan, 2008).  It seems as though many people of the public are against drugs and support the War on Drugs, hence why no president has put decriminalization into action; however 50% of incarcerations are for crimes that the public deems “not very serious” (Sullivan, 2008).  It is easier for politicians to convince the public that fighting drugs will keep their community safer than giving up on the fight and trying a different alternative.  Many see giving up on the War on Drugs as supporting crime even though this is not the case.

Statistics have shown that places like ‘Insight’ or regulated ‘needle parks’ reduce the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis among addicts (Sullivan, 2008).  If these parks are helping prevent disease and most of our incarcerations are for low level drug offences is it safe to say that the War on Drugs is not helping? With all the corruption from the cops and all the organized crime going on one could say that it is only making situations worse and that countries are losing thousands of people in this endless fight.

Whether or not to decriminalize drugs will always be a controversial issue.  Even though many statistics show that it would be in our society’s best interest to make the change people are afraid of just that.  Tens of thousands of people die every year because of drugs, whether it is overdoses because the drug injections are not regulated the drug dealers and gang members fighting over their turf or the police officers that are just trying to enforce the law.  What we do know is that too many people die because of drugs and something needs to change.  Millions of dollars goes toward funding the War on Drugs that could be used for other things such as health care for Americans or the prevention of serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.  Corruption is a huge indictor as well that this is not the outcome that we hope for.  Corruption and drugs go hand in hand as does organized crime and drugs.  If we were to decriminalize drugs we would ultimately be solving the problem of corruption and organized crime.  The old saying goes “if it aite broke don’t fix it”.  Well what if it is broken? Should we not do what we can to try and fix the problem? If we have been fighting drugs for decades and it has not improved then we should try something new or the outcome will be the same – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

There are many people and organizations that benefit from the War on Drugs and it’s a wonder that they are not the reason why it is continuing.  First and probably the most obvious are drug dealers.  They buy product in bulk for very little money and flip it for an enormous profit, while the consequences if busted can be intense, many do not mind taking the risk for the extreme amounts of cash that are involved.  Second would be law enforcement.  Corrupt cops benefit from the War on Drugs by becoming a part of the criminal acts the take place.  As mentioned above, police involved in the drug trade can become corrupt due to the opportunities for large sums of money.  Third would be politicians.  Politicians benefit in a different way.  They use the War on Drugs as a way to increase their campaign.  The community is more likely to elect someone that wants to fight drugs and crime and make them feel safe in their community.  Society doesn’t generally elect someone that “condones” crime and/or drugs (which is the way it may seem if they did not support the fight against drugs).  Lastly, would be private prisons.  Private prisons receive funding per inmate.  So if the incarceration rate goes up – so does their funding.  It is easy to see why any of the above would and do benefit from the war, but what about the rest of society that does not.

The fact of the matter is, when you look at the facts and at the history of the War on Drugs, it is potentially causing society more harm than good.  Not only is it striping our community of money to fund the endless fight but it is killing millions of people, some completely innocent of crimes, in the process.

The money that is spent annually towards funding the War on Drugs could be used towards other things such as health care.  Can anyone really agree that the War on Drugs is more important than the health of our community?  I think it is safe to assume that most would agree that the health of the child is more important than whether the teenager down the block gets busted for smoking a joint? Yes this may be a harsh example, but it is the bare naked truth.  President Nixon said the Drugs were America’s number one enemy?

In all due respect President Nixon but I would have to disagree and say that cancer and other deadly illnesses may be more of a threat to American’s than a choice to use or sell drugs.  If half the money was spent on cancer research as it has been to fight the War on Drugs thousands of lives may have been saved – someone may not have lost their child to leukemia at the age of 5, someone may not have lost their mother or father, brother or sister… instead people have lost their families in a War that may never end.

What can we do?

What are the alternatives to the War on Drugs?  Are there any? Have they been successful?  As a matter of fact there are alternatives and other countries have paved the way by demonstrating how successful these alternatives can be.  The Netherlands, for example, has been a leader in the search for alternatives.  Switzerland has experimented with alternatives to police enforced prohibition and there have been established “needle parks” where addicts can safely and legally purchase drugs.  In Vancouver there is a safe injection site known as “Insite” which is North America’s first legal supervised injection site

The sad truth about drugs is that people will do what they want and making it legally available is not going to make that decision for them… only they can do that, the least we can do is make sure they do it safely.

Punch (2009) always talks about the bad apple or bad orchard theory… If it is in fact a bad orchard what we as a society can do to prevent that orchard from growing and infecting more of the community is by stopping the source of their corruption – the War on Drugs.  No War on Drugs = no drug dealers and no drug-related corruption… it’s really that simple – if an orchard is producing bad apples it is up to us to stop watering the trees.

References Cited

Balko, Radley. (2006). Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Washington, D.C.. Retrieved on November 3, 2011 from

CBC News. (2011). News Cast. Retrieved from web on October 25th 2011 from

CBC News. (2011). War on Drugs on Bust: Commission. Retrieved from web on October 25th 2011 from

Chambliss, William J. (1995). Another lost war: The costs and consequences of drug prohibition. Proquest. Social Justice. San Francisco. Vol. 22, Iss. 2. Pg. 101.

Lee Sullivan. Sheriff. (2008). Drug Unit Corruption: Stopping the Scandal Before it Starts. Proquest. Alexandria. Vol. 60, Iss. 1; pg. 27, 3 pgs.

Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing.

Globally, spanning countless jurisdictions, there has been public outcry concerning whether or not it is responsible to allow the continuation of police investigations into internal affairs. Police deviance and issues arising related to accountability of officers today, are relevant to society in general. It is the duty of the police to serve and protect the communities in which they are employed in, and therefore, it is of utmost importance that the police instill a sense of confidence within the citizens that they are trained and contracted to defend. Due to increasing exposure of police deviance, it is critical that society be aware of the ever-present issue concerning police accountability. Although police forces maintain an assurance of transparency when carrying out internal investigations, the method of ‘police investigating police’ remains controversial, as it is unclear as to whether solidarity and loyalty ultimately determine the fate of such inquiries. Citizens are often left wondering if the blue wall of silence is responsible for purposeful ignorance when the police conduct investigations of other forces. This lack of confidence leaves many members of society disillusioned regarding the police’s competence to investigate deviance within the organization. Police investigating police leads to issues concerning the authenticity and seriousness of such examinations, and therefore relates to many other broader themes involving deviance and accountability. The RCMP and other police forces pride themselves on being privileged with membership to an exclusive organization that holds the authority to withhold certain secrecies from the general public. However, due to this solidarity, the resultant silence creates a universal unease among citizens. Many commonly feel that should law enforcement be required to examine deviance among one another, the consequent investigation would not be performed under the same scrutiny used in investigations of non-law enforcement.

According to Section 37 of the RCMP Act, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police operate in accordance to six core values: “integrity, honesty, professionalism, compassion, respect and accountability” (Section 37 RCMP Act) and although ethics and good moral standards are classified as highly regarded, it is definitely apparent that in many circumstances these values are thrown out the window. In such cases, and especially in cases involving death or assaults and injury, an outside police force is called upon to investigate the events that took place. Herein arises the conflict of interest. It would be unrealistic to assume that members of the same association could be expected to carry out a completely unbiased examination of other members, when the very organization they both belong to prides itself on stressing loyalty among colleagues. In order to protect one another, police investigating police rarely expose the real details of an incident to the public (Haubin). The initial problem encountered with police investigating police tends to be presented as civilians’ perceptions that police conducting the investigations will lend more sympathy to the police officer(s) in question than to the citizen raising a complaint. It is expected that police will let the improper actions of other officers slide, due to their pledge of loyalty to one another, and in turn, virtually disregard legitimate concerns of civilians. This series of beliefs and perceptions, holds especially true for marginalized citizens, who “do not have confidence [in]…nor [accessibility]…to an oversight body” (Hryniewicz, 79) and feel that the system ‘lacks credibility’. Many victims of police deviance or improper conduct feel that they may be subjected to retaliation should they report an event. This complete disbelief in the competence of officers’ abilities to investigate one another requires that civilian lead response teams are employed for police investigation, in order to restore confidence in police and generate a stronger sense of democracy and societal unity. Although members of society such as Aboriginal Peoples, the impoverished and minorities often feel as if they are swept aside in political process, engaging all citizens in a public mechanism to aid in investigation of social issues promotes equality of all and “a desire for common security and protection” (Hryniewicz, 80).

Furthermore, lack of objectivity continues to be a factor in concern toward police investigating police. The RCMP and police forces function as organizations that promote brotherhood and loyalty. Citizens express significant concern on a regular basis regarding the objectivity officers act with when investigating other members. During the Braidwood Inquiry into the Robert Dziekanski death at YVR, even certain members of the RCMP recognized that in such convoluted cases, internal investigation becomes a conflict of interest for both the police and the public. As Supt. Rideout stated, “[The police] were asked to do a very difficult job…we shouldn’t be doing this…time for an SIU (Special Investigations Unit) in this province.” Following this statement and the Braidwood Inquiry, the proposal for a civilian based investigative body included a mandate that stated the “serious injury or death of an individual involving an RCMP employee or when it appears that an employee of the RCMP may have contravened a provision of the Criminal Code or other statute and the matter is of a serious or sensitive nature” prompts the requisition for an external investigation (Braidwood Inquiry, Part 10). The measures proposed in the Braidwood Inquiry serve as an example of methods to improve and eliminate the issue of lack of impartiality in investigations.

Due to such inquiries and the pressing issue of the practice of internal investigation, some changes have been implemented in the various accountability systems in order to correct and restore the confidence of the public. Civilian lead response teams do operate out of several provinces currently in Canada, and function to provide an unbiased examination into events relevant to police deviance, misconduct and crime. Serious Incident Response Teams (SIRT teams) currently operate out of Alberta, Nova Scotia and Ontario. In addition, according to the recommendations of the Braidwood Inquiry, BC Legislature created an “Independent Investigation Office”, whose goal is reflective of the ambition of the SIRT teams. Such bodies recognize that “Cops protect Cops…[and that] it is a problem of human nature, identity, and social conditioning” (Pivot). The shared motivation of these various Special Investigations Units is to encourage “civilian oversight as a public good” (Hryniewicz, 79), an oversight mechanism that functions to not only protect society, but actively involve citizens in processes of investigation. The Final Public Report for Police Investigating Police from the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP defines the current police oversight and review models within Canada, and further breaks down the methods by which police investigate police. The CPC Final Report breaks down the models into dependent, interdependent and independent and further discusses the specifics of each, in order to categorize and explain the differences between police investigating police and the civilian oversight bodies.

Although improvements have been made such as the creation of civilian lead investigation bodies and the SIRT teams, the system still has ample room for further upgrading. The inquiries and recommendations are valuable to perfecting the system, although as stated earlier, the police organization is fraught with officers whose natures passively accept that deviance and improper behavior occurs, and is basically required in order to successfully complete job tasks, and therefore, unless issues of deviance are brought into the open, they will continue to occur in the background, unchecked by anyone and shielded from the public by colleagues. The promising prospect of increasing exposure of unacceptable behavior will continue to allow for further citizen review. With further progress and civilian participation, Canada can work towards engaging in practices beneficial to both police and society.

Due to the integral role policing plays in democratic societies nationwide, it is crucial that citizens critically examine practices employed by law enforcement. As stated above, the function of law enforcement is to benefit general society, and with that comes the requirement for assurance of accountability and transparency. In order to maintain communities that function democratically, it is imperative that all citizens are involved in or able to participate in influencing policy and supervision. If police policy (and incidents) go unchecked and unmonitored by regular citizens, law enforcement power far exceeds a safe and responsible level. Democratic practice requires the participation of citizens and extends to all aspects of society and government, policing included. Should police be privileged with being removed from the standard democratic supervision of citizens, gateways will open and flood with vast opportunities for corrupt and deviant actions to be performed and go unnoticed. Absolute power proves to have dangerous consequences, and without some oversight from community members, formerly democratic societies are liable to slowly evaporate and in turn be replaced with police states.

Central to the necessity of creating accountable law enforcement, it is greatly significant that the members of the oversight bodies whom police officers are accountable to, similarly, act responsible to democratic process. Members within the oversight bodies such as the SIRT teams, SIUs, or the newly created IIOs must be screened by some method to ensure that they themselves are free of biases and hidden, personal agendas. It would be extremely counter-productive and cost the oversight bodies their reputation of legitimacy if members within were found to be making their recommendations on the basis of strong preconceptions and working towards veiled goals of their own. Preconceived bias brings up the issue of former law enforcement participating within said ‘civilian’ oversight bodies and whether or not this is appropriate given the original purpose of these organizations. It is difficult to fully determine whether or not former officers would be capable of performing investigations on current law enforcement without acting with some partiality; the critique being that loyalty to ‘the brotherhood’ does not simply end upon an officer’s resignation or retirement. Once oversight bodies are formed with members who seem to possess all necessary attributes, the voluntary participation of other citizens who desire to be involved in the process of investigation of law enforcement, should to an extent, be permitted. Perhaps, in order to maintain the definition of a democratic state, members of society who may not have been educated or with enough background experience to sit on the oversight board itself, could be involved in a voting process based on several options recommended by the SIRT teams or SIUs. Regardless of whether or not the use of a voting system be used in some cases, the formation of civilian lead oversight bodies encourages citizens to report and respond to issues concerning police deviance; corruption; and brutality, as members of society will be more comfortable and apt to approach other members of society regarding their concerns.

Currently, although the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP operates in a ‘similar’ function to that of the SIRT teams and SIUs, there is concern for how seriously the organization takes complaints made by the average citizen. Despite the CPC’s claim that “anyone who has a concern about the on-duty conduct of an RCMP member” ’s ability to make a complaint, it is troubling to further examine the literature that outlines the discretion at which the Commission can either pursue or sweep under the rug, issues brought to their attention. According to the CPC, issues that do not fall under the jurisdiction of concerns intended to be subject to their investigation, as deemed by Parliament, the following are not the CPC’s responsibility and will be redirected back to the RCMP for examination: “administration of the affairs of the force” such as: “delays in processing of fingerprints, …criminal record checks,…[and] processing of a pardon”. Additionally, in order to commence the process of a formal complaint, the CPC writes up said concern, and sends it to the RCMP for investigation, who then also have the discretion of deciding whether or not any issues brought to their attention require further investigation. Based on the following criteria, if a complaint falls under one or more of the subsequent categories, the RCMP reserves the right to refuse investigation:

  1. If the complaint is considered trivial, frivolous, or vexatious;
  2. If it can better be dealt with under another Act of Parliament; or
  3. If the RCMP deems that an investigation is not necessary under the circumstances. (CPC, 2011)

Essentially, despite the CPC’s role as an oversight body of the RCMP, members of the RCMP are pivotal in determining the ultimate outcome of a complaint lodged. This begs the question: how is this process even remotely legitimate in its attempts to maintain police accountability to a separate organization?

Furthermore, with the development of additional SIRT teams and SIUs, increases in funding must be implemented in order to ensure the most thorough of investigations as possible. Limited funding of such programs severely inhibits the extent to which investigators are capable of examining serious incidents, and in turn, the most accurate result of the investigation may not in due course, be reached. Investigations are often lengthy and costly, therefore, restricted resources and funding significantly impact the correctness of the outcomes attained. Another crucial aspect of accurate investigations involves the issue of doctoring police notes before they reach the hands of the civilian investigators, and thanks to the recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeals, officers are no longer permitted to have lawyers “shape and refine the finished product” of notes before they reach both the courts and the public (Tyler). Prohibiting the manipulation of these notes leads to better assurance and confidence by citizens that the notes more accurately portray the events leading up to the investigation, which better guarantees opportunity for a realistic assessment of each situation.

As law enforcement oversight bodies develop and evolve, the above aspects must be taken into account. The vitality of these organizations is dependent upon members who must be both unbiased in their decision-making and passionate about seeking the truth in order to better society’s welfare. In addition to the above recommendations, members of the oversight bodies must be representative of the nation or state, which they are serving; members must be of varying age groups, cultural backgrounds, ethnicities and sexes to embody the diverse perspectives of the Canadian population and societies. Furthermore, members must be educated to some extent to prevent ignorant decision or recommendation making. By increasing transparency and extending the openness of investigation process to all members of society, democratic process is honored and citizens become more confident in the accountability of the police.


Braidwood, Thomas. “Braidwood Inquiry.” Braidwood Inquiry 20 May 2010. Web. 27 October 2011.

CBC News. “New Civilian Agency to Probe Police Incidents in BC.” CBC News 17 May 2011. Web. 27 October 2011.

Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. “Police Investigating Police – Final Public Report.” Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Government of Canada., Aug. 2009. Web. 27 October 2011.

Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. “”Frequently Asked Questions.” Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Government of Canada., Aug. 2010. Web. 1 December 2011.

Doug. “Reading Into the New Independent Investigations Office (IIO).” Pivot Legal 18 May 2011. Web. 27 October 2011.

Government of Alberta. “Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).” Government of Alberta. 2011. Web. 1 December 2011.

Government of Nova Scotia. “Serious Incident Response Team.” Government of Nova Scotia 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 27 October 2011.

Government of Ontario. “Special Investigations Unit.” Queen’s Printer for Ontario. 25 July 2011. Web. 1 December 2011.

Haubin. “It’s Wrong to Have Police Investigate Police Shootings.” The Montreal Gazette 26 July 2007. Web. 28 September 2011.

Hryniewicz, Danielle. “Civilian Oversight as Public Good: Democratic Policing, Civilian Oversight and the Social.”Contemporary Justice Review March 2011, Vol. 14 Issue 1. Web. 27 October 2011.

Punch, Maurice. “Police Corruption – Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Public Policing.” Portland: Willan Publishing, 2009.

Strudwick, Katie. “Is Independence the Only Answer to Complainants’ Satisfaction of the Police Complaints Process? A Perspective from the United Kingdom.” Practice and Research March 2003, Vol. 4 Issue 1. Web. 27 October 2011.

Tyler, Tracey. “Lawyers Can’t Vet Officer’s Notes in SIU Cases, Court Rules.” Toronto Star. 15 Nov 2011. Web. 1 December 2011.

An Introduction:

‘Agent Provocateur’ what does this mean exactly?  No, not the lingerie brand.  Obviously it relates, somehow, to police deviance.  This is a relatively obscure term used to describe a certain type of crime. An agent provocateur is created when an undercover agent has moved from a passive involvement in crime to an active involvement. This means that such an individual might (and as often is the case) not be a police officer.  The individual could be any number of things, from a police officer working undercover, to an informant who is paid or blackmailed, to a member of The Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS) — which is not a policing agency, and is not in fact required to enforce Canadian law.

Typically, an agent provocateur is a police officer that encourages others to commit crime in order for fellow police officers to arrest said guilty parties.  These encouragements can vary depending on circumstance. They could be crimes of themselves.  And the encouragements enacted by the police officer universally stray in to that legal gray area known as entrapment – whether the act of encouraging itself is a crime or not.

A little context is, perhaps, in order.

Grant Bristow and Operation Governor:

When we speak of agents provocateur, it is important to note that agents provocateur are not a new phenomenon in Canadian legal history.

Historically, we also have the case of Grant Bristow, a former CSIS agent who worked with the Canadian chapter of the Aryan Nations.  Unfortunately, the only comprehensive resource on Grant Bristow comes from Wikipedia.  Although we do have fellow blogger, Ezra Levant‘s commentary on the matter, as well as Bristow’s interview with The Walrus to draw on. Less user-friendly is a SIRC report written in 1994 investigating CSIS and Bristow’s role in the Heritage Front Affair.

Regardless, in this case the Wiki article seems to be quite succinct on the subject of Grant Bristow according to my subsequent research.
Grant Bristow
Grant Bristow was an informant employed by CSIS who worked closely with the eventual leader of the Canadian Aryan Nations front, Wolfgang Droege in the ’80s. He has spoken to the fact that his ties with Droege allowed him to prevent various horrific acts of violence, including bombings and riots. However, further investigation has revealed that his placement as Droege’s right hand man may have been what allowed the organization to continue its operations when Droege assumed leadership. The purpose of Bristow’s infiltration was to identify the financial supporters of the Canadian Chapter of Aryan Nations. However, it was upon the impending arrest of Droege (on unrelated charges of assault) and Bristow’s subsequent departure of Aryan Nations in March 1994, that the Front disbanded.  Bristow was forced to step down, because if he had not, he would have become the de facto leader of the chapter.

In 1994, Toronto Sun reporter Bill Dunphy released an expose on Operation Governor; sadly this news article is not available on the newspaper’s website.  Without a copy, what can be said about it is this: the article negatively exposed CSIS’s role in the Heritage Front/Operation Governor Affair and ousted Grant Bristow as the agent in question.

In September 2004, Bristow sat down with the Walrus and narrated his own perspective of the operation.

Bob Lambert:

Robert Lambert

Dr. Robert Lambert is currently the co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter. He also lectures at the Centre of the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews. He was a former officer employed by the London Metropolitan Police from 1980-2008. He is the author of Countering Al Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnerships. He was inducted as a Member to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2008, for his work as a police officer.

Under the false identity “Bob Robinson,” Lambert infiltrated various environmental, animal rights, and anti-racist activist groups. I bring this case up not as a discussion of agents provocateur, but to highlight a similar issue found in the Kennedy case below: Lambert instigated an 18 month relationship with a London Greenpeace activist in an attempt to gain credibility in his undercover role. While police chiefs claim that undercover officers are expressly forbidden from engaging in sexual relations with activists, other undercover officers have come forward to say that sex is most definitely used as a tool to gain trust.

Although Lambert has never been accused of being an agent provocateur, he currently is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police in regards to whether or not he was prosecuted under his assumed identity, while undercover.

Robert Lambert


The Montebello Incident involved the Sûreté du Quebec using three undercover officers to infiltrate the anti-Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America protests. The SPP was an open dialogue between Canada, America, and Mexico with the purpose of enhancing trade, sharing intelligence, cooperation, environmental protection, and economic stability between the three nations. The SPP was meant to exist alongside institutions such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The SPP was cancelled in August 2009.

In the above video, peaceful demonstrators are protesting the SPP at the North American leaders’ summit in Montebello, Quebec. The above video shows Dave Coles (president of the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Union) ordering three masked men, who were later revealed as undercover SdQ officers, to leave. In August 2007, the SdQ admitted to its involvement.


To further broaden our look into agents provocateur: the issue of informants is paramount.  Mother Jones offers are clear and frank exploration of the use of informants from the American perspective in its September/October 2011 article “The Informants”.  From the Canadian perspective, we have the work of Mathilde Turcotte and his study of police informants and their handlers in Quebec, in the article “Shifts in Police-Informant Negotiations.”

From the Canadian perspective we have the following: police are required to actively seek out and maintain a network of informants without much leverage.  Typically, informants are gathered through actions such as bribes, blackmail, and “flipping.” “Flipping” is where a criminal is given the opportunity to “work off” his crimes through aiding in police investigations. Blackmail is the threat of legal action before an informant is charged. This could include issues of immigration.  However, in Canada, police have no real control over the reciprocity process.  In order to prevent the abuse of power on part of the police, outside agencies have control over the reciprocity process. This creates a unique situation where the informant could gain leverage over his handler, and make demands in return for cooperation. This also puts the handler in jeopardy during the bargaining process, because he cannot be certain that any promises he makes to an informant will be carried through.

As the informant gains more power in his relationship with his handler, it is often the case that he works outside his orders and without confirmation or approval.  An example provided by Turcotte involves an informant, while wearing a wire, attempting to entrap a contact in a drug deal.  This was outside the scope of the informant’s directions, and completely illegal — any evidence he might have gathered would have been inadmissible in court.  As a civilian agent, he was not aware that his actions constituted entrapment. Fortunately, the contact did not accept the deal; if he had, the ramifications are impossible to predict, although it could be said with certainty that the Police would not have come out of it with high public opinion.

Mother Jones also brings up the issue of wires and undercover operations, in the context of terrorist sting operations.  The concern raised here is that, while technology advances further and has allowed for virtually undetectable recording devices, there are still many incidents of key interactions not being recorded. The law enforcement side of the debate offers the excuse of “technical difficulties,” while the pragmatic approach is simply one of convenience. Certain conversations are not recorded because it is “inconvenient” for the agency that they are on record.

Mark Kennedy:

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy is a former London Metropolitan police officer who worked undercover for seven years, between 2003 and 2010, infiltrating various activist groups across Europe. Most recently, he was involved in the case of 20 activists convicted of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass at the Ratcliff-on-Soar Power Station. However, this conviction was overturned on Tuesday, July 19, 2011. Three appeal court judges ruled that a grave miscarriage of justice had occurred when audio evidence Kennedy had collected during the activists’ meetings was not disclosed by prosecution. The audio evidence showed Kennedy “was involved in activities which went much further than the authorization he was given, and appeared to show him as an enthusiastic supporter of the proposed occupation of the power station and, arguably, an agent provocateur.”

Kennedy’s involvement in the planned occupation of the Power Station was not passive. He recruited, drove reconnaissance, and offered financial backing. In total, 114 individuals were arrested when they gathered for a meeting in April 2009. When Kennedy’s involvement in the group as an undercover officer was exposed, he faced harsh denouncement from the activists he had infiltrated, who had considered him a close friend and confident. They express feelings of violation and betrayal. Kennedy also faces allegations that he had used sex as a means to gain trust and information while under cover.

In response to this controversy, Kennedy claims that “he was mishandled by senior officers and has been hung out to dry.” Interesting, in that this is a technique of neutralization. In the field of sociology, we would describe this as shifting blame to a higher power – in this case Kennedy’s superiors. Although it is important to qualify that what he has to say is quite logical. And not unexpected when, often, police institutions seek to single out the blame and distance the institution itself from corruption.
Seven inquiries have been launched in regards to Kennedy’s infiltration and the prosecution of the activists.  In total, of the 114 individuals arrested, none have been convicted.


Undercover officers – what do they mean for police and police deviance?  Maurice Punch (2009), in his book Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability, and reform in policing, tells us time and again to look not at the “bad apples,” but the “bad barrels” and “bad orchards” (p. 48), meaning: look at the situation, circumstance, and environment surrounding police that might lead them to corruption. Undercover officers work with, more often than not, criminals; to put it plainly, an officer is expected to infiltrate suspected criminal groups with the intent of gathering evidence (we hope) against these criminals that can be used to bring them to justice.  It is most definitely a dirty job. Getting ‘street cred’ alone usually requires some sort of criminal act.  This common theme of “credibility” or “trust” or “information” is found in the cases of Bristow, Lambert, Kennedy, and Mother Jones’s “The Informants.” In the cases of Kennedy and Lambert, we are further introduced into the idea of sexual encounters as a point of leverage. Morals are pushed and boundaries are reformed. It is natural to assume that somewhere along the line ‘the end justifies the means.’

Gary T. Marx asks us to explore the origins and motives of informants, what they do in radical groups, and factors that enable their transformation into agents provocateur (n.d.).

This leads us first to look our cases of undercover officers as informants, identify some of the motives and concerns that might have lead them to become agents provocateurs.

Bristow’s case is interesting because, as an informant working for CSIS, he is in a different position than the others, who were actual police officers. Bristow had no overarching mandate to uphold the law. And he was tasked with uncovering the financial supporters of Aryan Nations. In his quest to do so he developed a strong relationship with Wolfgang Droege. The maintenance of that relationship required Bristow to act the part of a supporter of the white supremacist cause.  This was an “ends justify the means” situation. Or we could call it a type of Nobel Cause or Dirty Harry corruption.  Maurice Punch describes these types of corruption as specific types of police deviance, however in this case we can apply them to Bristow.  Bristow did not believe in the cause of white supremacy, yet he assumed the guise of such in his undercover role.

The SdQ undercover officer’s roles in the Montebello incident are most definitely Nobel Cause or Dirty Harry corruption. However, as SdQ is a police agency, with a legal mandate to uphold Canada’s law, we have the further issue of Accountability.  Attempting to provoke or incite violence for whatever purpose is illegal. In some cases it could be considered entrapment.  However, it is important to note that Entrapment is only a defense at law; it is not in itself illegal. (Robichaud’s Criminal Defence Legislation blog offers a clearly defined explanation of entrapment if you are so interested.)  The SdQ’s actions at Montebello neatly fall into the definitions of entrapment, although in this case the protesters resisted incitement.  Although no violence occurred, why were the police not held accountable for their actions? If Droege had been prosecuted for his involvement with the Aryan Nations Front, would he have been able to plead entrapment? The role of the agent provocateur is a convoluted one.

In the study of agents provocateur and their roles in undercover operations, the issue of accountability continues to raise its head. There is a certain “legal gray area” that clouds the use of informants and the use of police undercover agents. We can identify some of the motives of agents provocateur, chiefly the types of corruption Maurice Punch labels as Noble Cause, or Dirty Harry corruption.  We cannot, however identify the solution to agents provocateur, because there is so little investigation into the use of them, and there is no transparent accountability structure in place.  CSIS informants hide behind the veil of “National Security.”

Further, what are the ramifications of the agent provocateur? As eluded to above, and as found conclusively in the case of Mark Kennedy, the identification of an agent provocateur can, and will, lead to acquittal.  So what then, makes an individual decide to jeopardize any possible legal action by inciting crime? In Bristow’s case, his purpose was not to arrest Droege – or anyone for that matter. He was tasked with identifying certain individuals and he had no interest in criminal charges.  We see a similar theme in Lambert’s and Kennedy’s situations – they were tasked with gathering information, as well. Is there a distinction between “information gathering” and “nailing the bad guy for a crime”? The literature on police deviance would suggest not.  Mathilde’s and Mother Jones’s articles both allude to the situation of the informant as key to the creation of the agent provocateur.

To look at the cases of Lambert and Kennedy again: I bring them up together because they share similar themes. While Lambert’s case was not one of the agent provocateur (he was an undercover police officer and is currently under speculation for false testimony, not inciting crime), both he and Kennedy were deep undercover agents who operated for years. They created intense interpersonal relationships with the people they were tasked to observe. And they both faced harsh criticism for they duality. They are also both former police officers. Under Peel’s principles that “the police are the public and the public are the police,” we have a concern. The controversy these two individuals are involved in seriously affects the relationship between the public and the police.

Ultimately, the damage the agent provocateur does, to the public and the agency to which he or she belongs, seems to outweigh any benefit. And yet, still these instances occur. What is so very tempting in tempting others into crime?


Marx, G. (n.d.). “Thoughts on a Neglected Category of Social Movement Participant: The Agent Provocateur and the Informant,” American Journal of Sociology 80(2): 402-442.

Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability, and reform in policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing.

Turcotte, Mathilde. (2008). Shifts in police-informant negotiations. Global Crime, 9(4), 291-305. doi: 10.1080/17440570802543508.

And all the electronic resources cited here-above.