Maybe it’s time to put the force back in to the service

The recent rash of police shootings and subsequent studies, trials, investigations and inquests has me concerned. As of late it appears few people give police the benefit of the doubt or understand an officer’s primary purpose. This is especially so if the final five seconds of a two minute encounter recorded on an iPhone is accepted by the public as the entire event.

Many police services do themselves no favours by overly campaigning to convince the public and media that their cops are friendly, cuddly folks who just want to help everyone. Some agency spin doctors emphasize that cops are not there to scare the living bejeebers out of the bad guys but to be nice to everyone.

Coupled with this is the latest trend in television and movies to glorify the average-Joe-gone-bad as the hero, undercutting the image of police as an effective protector of the public. This new media mix of hero/bad guys and villainous/good guys needs some serious and sober rethinking.

Two trends in the early 90s seem to have been the watershed. Police ‘force’ was changed to police ‘service’ and there was a move toward equipping police with more less-lethal options. Both changes were designed to make cops appear more friendly and non aggressive. What it may have inadvertently done is make police and policing look more irrelevant.

The ‘Force’ name change to “Service” is symptomatic of the emasculation of policing concepts such as deterring crime and protecting the public. The new mind set is to soften the image of police as enforcers of laws democratically created by the will of the people. In other words, it’s okay to make a law but not to take its implementation too seriously. The reality of life, however, has shown us that many predatory individuals seek out weakness, either real or perceived, and will seize every opportunity to exploit them.

Somehow policing concepts became all mixed up. It’s high time police ‘services’ emphasized that cops are out there to catch the bad guys. They must do so as aggressively as they can (within the law), even if for no other reason than the public’s peace of mind. The community must be confident that their police know what they are doing and are really good at catching crooks. People who may have a tilted leaning must be convinced they will be caught and appropriately punished.

Earning a community’s respect can he accomplished in many ways but we need not sacrifice that necessary image of strength. The taxpayers want an agency that has the ability to have an iron fist but the intelligence to know when to use it appropriately. The recent incident where a Canadian stopped by a cop in Georgia was arrested because her licence did not permit her to drive there is a good example of lack of discretionary thinking. Having a mind set of a hammer looking for a nail serves neither the public or the police.

There is a time, however, when the public must be given some harsh realities. In the mid-90s Winnipeg superintendent Bruce Taylor was asked why city police chose a more powerful handgun. The 40-calibre pistol was chosen for its “flesh-tearing characteristics,” he replied. The news story went on to note that Taylor’s committee chose the weapon because police needed a bigger gun capable of firing more bullets without reloading to keep up with the increased fire-power of criminals.

“Stopping power is a simple concept,” Taylor explained. “To be morbid about it, the only thing that stops some bad guys is the size of the hole.”

Initially I was taken aback when reading the forthright honesty of his comments but then realized the alternative would be to wimp out. Putting a positive spin on the new pistol would sound apologetic. It’s obvious that Taylor knew very well the message he wanted to send. That message was directed at the criminal element as well as his community. Crooks wanting to play hard ball needed to know there is a real ‘force’ to be reckoned with in his city.

I was equally impressed by a comment in <Blue Line Magazine> that officers can be taught to shoot at less vulnerable areas instead of simply shooting to kill. This would require training them to a skill level where their firearms could be used as strategically as they might use less lethal weapons.

Eureka! If there is enough time and distance to strategically deploy a less lethal weapon such as a taser, then why not simply use a firearm in the same strategic way to incapacitate a target? I recall an incident, way before the advent of the taser, where officers where called to a man brandishing a large knife. The man was swinging it in a threatening manner but was way too drunk to walk in a straight line. Police cordoned off an area around him. One officer leaned over the hood of his scout car and with a steady hand shot at the man’s leg area. The suspect tumbled to the road and his knife went flying as he screamed in pain. Officers quickly cuffed him and rendered first aid until and an ambulance arrived.

There are times when the threat is simply too imminent to strategize anything other than lethal force. It may, however, be time for agencies to boost firearms training budgets instead of buying more less-lethal tools to shoehorn onto an already overloaded gun belt.

There are many factors which influence societal opinion but a little police navel gazing could do a lot of good. There just might be some things that could be done better. But getting a proper message out to the public that disobedience of the laws of the land will be met by some manner of force should be fundamental.