You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

When training and supervision fall short

March 28, 2009
Iain Hunter
Special to Times Colonist

I've learned to respect cops since the days when I was chased by them because I've recognized that they have to contend with a lot worse than smart-ass hooligans high on hormones and whatever else is available.

None of the sickening things that are being revealed at the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, and none of the callous brutality that's been caught on surveillance cameras in police stations and jails recently, is going to persuade me that cops, by definition, are sadistic brutes looking for a chance to injure people who can't protect themselves.

None of the instinctive covering of tracks that we've seen when police have come under suspicion or investigation in the past couple of years is going to convince me that cops, as a breed, are corrupt.

But something sure has gone wrong. What video cameras have revealed must have a lot of people wondering what goes on off-camera.

And when the RCMP's commissioner-in-a-suit asks us to "walk a mile" in his shoes before judging the Mounties involved in Dziekanski's death, or the force as a whole, we might want to ask "why?"

William Elliott, as far as I'm aware, has a limited experience of front-line police work. He wears shoes, but most Mounties wear boots -- and why would we want to walk in boots that seem to be trampling on so many people that they come in contact with?

How can we empathize with four armed horsemen who charge -- like crusader knights against the infidel -- without taking the time to assess what they're up against? How can we understand why one of them thought he had to zap Dziekanski with a Taser five times for a total of 31 seconds to subdue him? How can we believe that a man writhing in agony on the ground can really be resisting arrest?

How can we accept one account of events offered by each of the Mounties that was so different from what the videotape showed? How can we sympathize with a cop who testifies, as Cpl. Benjamin Robinson did, that "I was mistaken but I was telling the truth."

What I find really chilling about all this is the calmness and composure shown on the witness stand by these young men who seem neither to have been supervised adequately nor trained properly for the situation they found themselves in.

And then I wonder how RCMP members or members of any police force can be trained to react appropriately every time when confronted with challenges that are so unpredictable. They must be alert, above all, to the danger -- to members of the public, and to themselves -- that may be encountered.

An apparently deranged man in an airport at first glance can represent a threat. A stapler can represent a weapon.

In the heat of the moment perceptions can be skewed and memories, later, can be distorted.

Back in the 1980s when rioters appeared so frequently on Parliament Hill, I found myself one day behind a cordon of Mounties in riot gear and shields lined four deep across the main foyer as the mob pressed against the heavy doors.

What I recall most is the smell of sweating bodies, the smell of tension, the smell of fear. These policemen, who on another day might be patrolling the parkway or posing for tourists, didn't know what was coming, but they were prepared to meet it. They'd been trained for the worst and if it had come, heads would have been broken.

I understand how cops responding even to a domestic dispute can face unpredictable dangers and prepare for some rough stuff.

When emergency response teams are called in, they're already in emergency mode -- and doors are not knocked on sometimes, but kicked in. We can't expect SWAT units to stroke gently.

Even so, Robert Dziekanski's death shows what happens when natural judgment is trumped by instilled instinct, training knows only extremes, and there's no requirement to look for niceties.

If Elliott wants us to walk in his shoes he's got to rewrite the manual, especially to put back restraint on the use of a device that can kill.

No comments: