Posts Tagged ‘Policing’s new visibility’

Are the ‘new’ body cameras really going to solve police accountability? Or lead to more problems?

We must first begin with understanding cameras without even mentioning police officers. There are cameras in grocery stores, big malls, parking lots, streets, offices, and many other public facilities, but what it really comes down to is; does that really stop crime from happening? No! Crime is still there, people will still steal from malls, or rob cars in parking lots. Having a camera there will not change the outcome of an individual’s actus reas when their mind has already made up the decision to commit a crime. The only thing that really changes is a criminal’s way to go about the criminal activity without getting caught. Now I’m not saying having those cameras there are useless; they do provide safety, and protection for the public, and the police. The point here is that they do not stop crime from happening; it is still there regardless. Really the only difference is now one can visibly see someone stealing or committing a criminal act. The whole point of having police officers is to create a safe community. When we look at measuring safety we look at the dimensions of victim harm, and the rate of crime. To me personally if an individual’s mens rea is there, then really a camera won’t change the outcome of the act. A perfect example to really show what I am trying to get at is the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’. This experiment had normal healthy young males who prior did not have any record of deviance, be either a guard or a prison inmate at random. Now clearly, the prisoners knew there were cameras, or at least were being watched, while the guards also knew there were cameras. That did not stop them from treating inmates inhumanly. What this means is even ‘real’ police officers will still be corrupt if that is truly where their mindset is. They will just be more careful. We can even hypothesis that new types of corruption can be created from this, like for example ‘accidently’ deleting recordings or a camera ‘breaking’ and so forth. The blue wall can also come into effect here, where there can be chances of officers covering for other officers, even with the no deleting recordings policy. Corruption exists in many ways, and those who try to get away with deception, usually find a way around the system. It has happened in the past, and can very well do so in the future.

This video shows exactly how corruption can still exist even with body cameras

The publics uproar about police accountability is really only based on three main cases, Ian Tomlinson, Robert Dziekanski, and Ferguson; two of which did not even occur in Canada. Yes, I do agree justice should be done, but that does not mean every Police officer in Canada should have their privacy invaded. If we zoom into the Dziekanski case, maybe better cameras should have been in the airport instead of blaming the whole police community of the acts of a few correction officers. The rotten apples should not spoil the rest of the barrel by making them undergo a big economical system change. Would anyone like to be on camera throughout his or her whole shift, especially for a 12-hour shift (common hours for police officers). Would a secretary at work like being filmed they’re whole shift, or would teachers like having their classroom being recorded all day. I would assume no they would not, but yet workplace, and classroom incidents are also common situations where body figures misuse their authority in Canada (Moulden et al, 2010).

Coming back to cameras, companies like Axon, and VieVu have already started making products for this new police equipment. According to the TASER’s website the ‘Axon’ body camera is designed to record easily in a wide-angle view while being light weight, and show clear footage (TASER, 2014). The police officer would wear it on their uniform and anytime they would be interaction with a civilian they would simply slide the camera lens off. Once the interaction was over they would slide the lens cover back on. They conclude with showing that the rate of complaints have fallen 87.5%. What I would like the reader to note here is that the study they show here is in only one agency of Rialto, CA which it directly says is a small town. Why have they not shown a study of a big town? We must be critical and note why there are no other agency studies posted on their website? Is it because the other ones do not show improvement? Or did they simply only take the agency that showed to have the most improvement compared to any other agency. By doing this it automatically show improvement because they are ‘marketing’; this means that they are only showing what they want ‘buyers’ to see so they can make money. Another thing to note is the graphs they show fail to go in-depth about the range they are counting for complaints, and use of force. To the naked reader we have no idea what these numbers really mean. The cost for an average body camera is typically around $400. This does not even include the chargers, docks and other gadgets that also would need to be bought. Once the camera has recorded material on it, it can then be charged into the dock where it automatically uploads to The material here can be accessed by police administrative bodies, and usually held for up to 180 days directed by TASER, unless it is in need for evidence. Recordings are able to be watched by the officers, but are not able to be deleted, or modified once they are uploaded. Additionally I would like to inform the reader that from all my research I was not able to find any information about new facilities that would have to open to store the recordings, or new workers that would have to be employed to manage the recordings. Articles just talk about the body cameras; people need to realize that money is not only going to be put into the cameras, but there will be money needed in other areas as well.

Tiny Police Cameras Oakland

Body cameras having been first implemented in the U.S and have made their way to Canada now. Justice officials say that if the public has cameras, so should the police. The body cameras allow the officers to safely protect the public, while ensuring they’re own safety as well. Questions about officer reliability, and accountability are being answered after watching footage. Many civilians may not use force due to knowing it will all be filmed, and vice versa. The safety of both parties here can be potentially benefited. Police officers do not have to deal with as many lawsuits that also cost tax payer’s money. Also sometimes witnesses, or victims decide to later withdraw from a case, which can cause the case to have no evidence. With the cameras there will always be evidence for the court; this can be either good or bad depending on the victims life. Police may in fact come out on top after all the criticism that they have received throughout the years. Now the public will understand that the police officer could have been justified in they’re actions. In situations of police misconduct, the police would have full accountability in cases like these because even the courts would not be able to save them. The courts would never have to feel obliged to take a police officers report as the only evidence anymore, because now they would have footage.


Justice officials in New York claim that body cameras are economically beneficial in saving the city millions of dollars in lawsuits every year, which would in the end pay for all of the cameras themselves (Lopez, 2015). The world of technology is always evolving, and with the dash cams just not being able to cut it anymore; body cameras may prove to be effective on their own. In Goldsmith’s article, he establishes that phone cameras, and the media are apart of the police organization now. Police having they’re own body cameras have evolved from that. Goldsmith would say that the police too should have they’re own cameras so that they can prove what maybe the public ‘filmer’ failed to record. Most civilians only start to record once an event begins to get ‘interesting’. The police officers on the other hand would get the full footage, from beginning to end. He would claim that now accountability would go to whichever party is at true fault.

This is a beneficial way for police officers to prove they’re innocence.

Here is an video that allows viewers to see how Body Cameras are used and can be effective, and beneficial.

I would just like to conclude with one last thing, we live in a ‘democracy’. This means everyone should get the opportunity to see all of the pros and cons, and then decide if we as a community want and need the cameras, since it is affecting everyone’s privacy. If citizens, and police officers all think body cameras are necessary in today’s age, then by all means that is what should happen. I want to leave the reader thinking with one incident I once heard a retired police officer say, “A young female was about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge…. I sat with her for two hours, and continued talking until she finally decided that life had a lot more for her…this saved her life”. I personally think if the police officer was wearing a camera the female would not have opened up as she did, and possibly the police officer may have not been able to say everything he had to as well. Not every situation should be on film, there’s times when having a camera can be invasive, and create more drama then it really needs to be. As the reader, really ask yourself is this what you would like to see in the next couple of years?


AXON. (2013, January 1). City of Rialto Case Study. Retrieved February 8, 2015.

Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras — and why they shouldn’t. Retrieved February 08, 2015.

Moulden, H. M., Firestone, P., Kingston, D. A., & Wexler, A. F. (2010). A Description of Sexual Offending Committed by Canadian Teachers. Journal Of Child Sexual Abuse19(4), 403-418.

Stroud, Matt. “The Big Problem With Police Body Cameras.” Bloomberg. 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <;.

With the emergence of smart phones and social media, most people now have the capacity to record and share any part of their daily lives with a larger and attentive audience. A ramification of this is the “new visibility” that the police are now subject to (Goldsmith, 2010), and the implications of accountability that stem from it. The body camera is a compelling and seemingly effective piece of technology that drastically changes how we view accountability measures, albeit still new and unproven to an extent.

AXON body camera. Photo source:

One device, currently at the forefront of the race, is the TASER AXON camera system. lists five steps in using the system for agencies that are interested in adopting it – collect, transfer, manage, retrieve, and share. Officers are able to record interactions via the body camera, which can be clipped onto their uniform, in any file format, then transfer and manage the security-protected files, later retrieve them with ease, and grant access to select others off of the secure cloud storage-like network. The TASER AXON Body Camera has a retail value of $399, but there are cameras that go for less and those that go for more.

Several police agencies across the United States and Canada have taken to testing the waters of utilizing body cameras for policing purposes, perhaps as a reaction to occurrences of police brutality. A recent example would be the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the events following, including outcries for police accountability by citizens. The RCMP is one organization that has researched body worn video devices for a half-decade and pilot tested them in New Brunswick in late 2013, stating that they seek to “[enhance] transparency as well as police and public safety,” and that is exactly what is offered by the devices from an accountability perspective.

As cited in Goldsmith (2010, p. 922), Mann (2006) expresses that true transparency is achieved when an activity is recorded “by a participant in the activity,” rather than an outside observer with a smartphone camera, for instance. Body worn cameras also have other perceived advantages, in addition to heightened transparency. PERF, or The Police Executive Research Forum, is an organization based in Washington, DC that seeks to promote police professionalism. PERF has, through consultations with many police officials, explored the conveniences of body cameras as a catalyst for accountability in police agencies (Miller et all, 2014). They have gathered that relations between members of the public and the police are enhanced, as officers are able to better “resolve questions following an encounter” (p. 5). They also affirm that the cameras impede problems from developing early on, as professionalism is reinforced at both an individual level, through officer performance evaluation by video review, and at a larger level, with easier pinpointing of “structural problems within the department” (p. 6). With the identification of these problems, they are able to revisit and change protocols, for example (p. 8). Jennings et. all suggest that officers in general are supportive of the movement for body cameras, and feel that the cameras alone can improve citizen and officer behavior, as well as the behavior of their fellow officers (2014).

In departing from a descriptive tone, I would like to address the controversy surrounding body cameras from my own perspective. First, as it is a relatively new phenomenon, there might be technological issues with the devices themselves at the outset (will the point of view be narrow enough for significant interactions to occur out of visibility?), but these will be sorted out with the implementation and further expansion of body cameras as a standard, and by way of competing brands, as the video may indicate.

I’d also like to address the idea that body cameras will interfere with the ability of officers to use discretion in daily policing activities. This might be applicable, for instance, where an officer could let an individual off with a warning for a trivial offense. I do not think discretion would be a power that would be severely limited as a consequence of body cameras, as the recordings would not be meticulously reviewed. This would just not be cost-efficient. Rather, the footage would be utilized for either evidential or developmental, training purposes, as Goldsmith implies (2010, p. 926). Hypothetically though, if the footage was to be watched on a day-to-day basis, and the officer was compelled to enforce the law completely thoroughly regardless of how unnecessarily harsh it would be, this would still not in any conceivable way removed discretion from the picture altogether. Rather, this where it would become apparent what laws should be re-written, reformed, or rescinded. It would put pressure on those in charge to “trigger political and administrative responses” (Goldsmith, 2010, p. 927).

Lastly, as with any other occupation in the public sphere in today’s world, I do not think police officers should not expect absolute privacy. They especially should not cite this as a reason against body cameras, as they have specific duties, such as upholding the law despite whatever circumstances arise, that the average citizen does not. That being said, as Jennings (2014) proposes, police officers, in general, favor of the use of body cameras.

When it comes to the issue of body cameras, it’s either competent but facultative officers, or competent officers bound by the restrictions that come with undisturbed accountability. Personally, I’d take the latter.


Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policing’s new visibility. British journal of criminology.
How it Works. (2015). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from /how-it-works
Jennings, W. G., Fridell, L. A., & Lynch, M. D. (2014). Cops and cameras: Officer perceptions of the use of body-worn cameras in law enforcement. Journal of Criminal Justice, 42(6), 549-556.
Miller, Lindsay, Jessica Toliver, and Police Executive Research Forum. (2014). Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
RCMP to pilot body worn video in New Brunswick. (2013, November 14). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from

In the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, The President of the United States, Barack Obama, promoted the use of body-worn cameras on police officers (CBC, 2014). He called for a national reform of police accountability, and promised the citizens of the United States that body worn cameras would help mend the precarious relationship between police departments and communities. However, Obama’s grandiose promises have led the public to believe that body cameras are a “win-win” situation. The common belief is that they could hold police accountable for their actions and also protect cops who are falsely accused of wrongdoing. This blog post challenges the assumption that police-worn body cameras increase police accountability and protect officers.

Body worn cameras record interactions between law-enforcement officials and civilians. Some battery-operated cameras can be attached to an officer’s vest or helmet; others, which look like thick pens, can be connected to the arms of specially designed glasses. The recorded footage goes to a secure online server or a cloud-storage system that can only be viewed by verified administrators. The original footage cannot be deleted without approval from an administrator, and individual police departments can set their own policies regarding the management of the footage, including how long the footage is stored.

Developing official procedures to govern the use of cameras will be a tedious task. Officers should be required to have their cameras running during encounters with civilians, but will they be allowed to turn them off while they’re in their squad cars or engaging with informants who don’t want their identities revealed? Will civilians expectations of privacy be put in jeopardy by these cameras?

Another concern about these cameras is battery life. Some cameras only have a battery life of two hours, and it is possible that the cameras may not always be usable when police officers need them most. If an officer is tasked with turning the camera on and off throughout his/her shift, it may not always be feasible in emergency situations (which is typically when video footage of the incident would be most beneficial in investigations).

Furthermore, the majority of support for police-worn cameras has come from politicians and executives of companies that have a vested economic interest in this market. Time magazine published a long commentary regarding it’s support for the use of body-worn cameras, however most of the information of the article was cited back to the CEO of VIEVU, one of the largest wearable body-worn camera makers in the world (Gillespie, 2014).

Once all of the information regarding support for body-worn cameras has been sifted through, two prominent themes emerge:

1. To date, there’s a relatively small amount of empirical evidence to demonstrate that body-worn cameras improve police-civilian interactions. The first randomized controlled trial using body-worn-cameras was conducted in 2013 in Rialto, California,  across a 12 month time frame. The study focused specifically on use-of-force and citizens’ complaints, which were hypothesized to be affected by officers wearing cameras, given the possible deterrent effect of the devices on noncompliant behaviour (Ariel, Farra & Sutherland, 2014, p2). The research found a 50 percent reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents among officers wearing the cameras. Civilian complaints against police officers also dropped sharply, however the Rialto police department already generates minimal complaints in a typical year, so it’s difficult to draw conclusions. This study has been used as “evidence” for advocates of body cameras to the point of exhaustion. However, this is but one experiment and before this policy is considered more widely, police forces, governments and researchers should invest further time and effort in validating these findings with other research.

Below is a link to the full study:

2. At this point, body-worn cameras are merely a part of politics. The vocal proponents of body cameras are mainly politicians, police chiefs and executives of body-camera companies. These groups require public approval and support to function, and because police accountability is a “hot topic” currently, advocating for body cameras on officers is simply being used as a public approval tactic. There is no consensus amongst researchers, the public nor police officers in regards to the approval or disapproval of such cameras because no sound evidence has been made available.  The only individuals and institutions adamantly pushing for these cameras are individuals who are attempting to capitalize on the emotional topic of police accountability.

Before billions of dollars are globally invested by governments and law enforcement agencies, an impartial research study must be performed, one that is not funded by any parties that have an economic interest in the results. Although the outcry for the use of body cameras has been extensively perpetuated by high profile police shootings, the public and state must come to a decision that is well-informed, and proves to be a decision for the greater good of the public and police agencies. A full impact assessment on the use of body-worn cameras must be conducted before adopting the use of them into police agencies.

Due to the two themes outline above, I cannot support the implementation of body-worn cameras on police officers. It would be irresponsible for myself, as a member of the academic community, to form an opinion without valid and reliable research to consider. For now, the state and law enforcement agencies should not economically invest in purchasing and implementing expensive programs without a more definitive and clear idea about the effectiveness of such cameras.


Ariel, B,. Farrar, W. A,. and Sutherland, A. (2014). The effect of police body-worn cameras on use of force and citizens’ complaints against the police: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.
DOI 10.1007/s10940-014-9236-3

Gillespie, N. (2014). Make cops wear cameras. Time Magazine.

Obama calls for police body cameras after Ferguson shooting. Dec 1, 2014. The Associated Press.

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.

Today, police armed with pepper spray, batons, and chemical paintball weapons attempted to arrest nonviolent student demonstrators staging an occupation on the grounds of UC Davis. The casual use of force shown here is quite revealing.

In response, students – again, nonviolent – confront the police with calls of ‘shame!’ and begin to push them back, off the UC Davis quad. At one point, they inform the police that they will be given a moment of peace in order to gather their weapons and leave. Eventually, this happens.

This film is an important example of the power of organized civil disobedience and the role of new forms of visibility in policing of police. Note the multitude of cameras.

Commentary from BoingBoing:

At UC Davis today, students inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement sat down on the grass in an open area of the school campus. In the video above, you can see a police officer walk past a group of these young people who are seated quietly on the ground in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. He walks down the line, and sprays them all with pepper spray, at close range. It’s as if he’s exterminating a row of sleeping bugs with bug spray

In the comment thread following the BoingBoing post, a common – but important – discussion is unfolding. Some participants, while expressing dismay at the police actions here, say that the police should be excused because they are ‘just doing their jobs’, and therefore cannot be blamed. Other participants claim that indeed they can and should be blamed – and held accountable – for these actions, and that ‘duty’ is not an excuse.

To my students: I encourage you to weigh in on this discussion, and to comment on this video more generally. You can post comments to this entry.

Goldsmith’s Article

Posted: November 18, 2011 by jeffield in Policing's New Visibility

As stated by Goldsmith in his 2010 article, Policing’s New Visibility, recent expansion in the availability of video cameras has created an environment in which the public has a much better visibility of the police and their actions, particularly misconduct. Such is the case with Kelowna RCMP Constable Geoff Mantler, who participated in the arrest of Buddy Tavares in January, kicking the man in the head as he was getting on the ground and complying with the police.

The video was captured on a cell phone, and uploaded onto the social video site YouTube, two technologies which Goldsmith believes are radically changing police visibility. Mantler is clearly shown arresting the man at gunpoint, and kicking him in the face while he is on his knees. The following video has nearly 80 000 views on YouTube.

There were many witnesses, and coupled with the video, the Abbotsford police investigation led to him being charged with assault causing bodily harm. The victim, Buddy Tavares, was licensed to carry the long gun for which he was arrested, and was employed by the local golf course to shoot geese. Having suffered brain damage before, the kick to the head, which can be seen in the video to cause bleeding, caused so much damage that Tavares couldn’t continue working. The constable’s trial revolved around whether he was reasonable in delivering so much force, and he has already been accused of several other alleged misuses of force. This case demonstrates the power of video, as the constable has never been charged before because of a lack of evidence; video recording in the hands of the public leads to greater police visibility and accountability.

Policing’s new Visibility

Posted: November 18, 2011 by krobel2001 in Policing's New Visibility

An incident took place inside the RCMP detachment in Lac Biche, Alberta, about 200 kilometres north of Edmontn on September 13, 2001. The officers had just begun their morning shift when the assault occured around 7:15a.m. Andrew Clyburn, 33, had been arrested hours earlier after being involved in a bar fight believed he was being released when he was led down the jail corridor by Constable Desmond Sandboe, a nine year verteran with the RCMP.  A video recorded Contable Sandboe lunging at his victim and smashing his head against a wall and then pummmeling him repeatedly.  The video is silent so it is unknown whether Clyburn said anything to Constable Sandboe before the incident. The video also shows two men standing and watching as the RCMP officer was beating Clyburn.

Constable Sandboe was initally charged with assault causing bodily harm but crown could not prove the injuries were from the constable as Clyburn could have sustained the wound in a bar fight the night before. Constable Sandboe pled guilty to aggravated assault, was suspended without pay and the RCMP was undertaking a code of conduct investigation, as reported by Tony Blais in the Edmonton Sun .