Police don’t work jobs, they uphold a sacred trust

frankThe land of my birth, in whose army infantry I served during the nascent Vietnam-War era, has abandoned its Constitution and principles. Using the 9/11 incidents as an excuse, it became a police state.

I pray that my adopted homeland, Canada, won’t follow suit.

The Americanization of our police, as exemplified by the execution of Sammy Yatim, is a result of several concurrent forces. One is the militarization of Toronto police.

Where they once were the “thin blue line” representing civilized law and order, they now wear storm-trooper black, practise infantry squad tactics and are sent onto our streets in a shoot-to-kill frame of mind.

Yatim was shot to death, and then Tazered for good measure, evidently for failing to follow shouted orders from the masters of our city.

That much is clear from the hazy cellphone video of the horror that went viral on the Internet.

Although nearly all rulers would, if only for convenience, prefer to sit atop a police state—Obama and Harper perhaps don’t vary from that sentiment—we have a right and they have a duty to prevent that. There are several steps we must insist be taken quickly:

1. Change the colour of police uniforms back to civilian blue and thus cool the image.

2. Dismantle the police union immediately. Armed forces are led top down in a strict, accountable chain-of-command. Police are an armed force. Armies don’t have unions.

3. Ignore policing practises imported or copied from the U.S. and other police-state models, such as U.S. television dramas.

4. Revise arms training to teach and test not only marksmanship but civilian target recognition and acquisition…and forbearance.

5. Require all arms-bearing officers to qualify monthly in order to retain their weapons and disarm all who fail unless/until they pass on a later day.

6. Outlaw the use of Tasers and destroy all inventories. They’re merely a deadly substitute for pepper spray, they cost a fortune and lead to abuse because they’re not always lethal.

7. Provide foldable shields or other defensive paraphernalia so officers can defend against personal attacks without crippling or killing assailants who are almost always mentally ill.

8. Recognize and promote the reality that policing isn’t a job.

It’s a sacred trust that requires sensitive, motivated men and women who have a genuine calling to serve humanity and the occupants of our city. Make that a mandatory sensibility for any police-officer candidate and back it up with psychological testing to weed out phonies.

9. Heavy-weapon, squad-tactic SWAT teams will always be needed in case of special situations and, by their existence, are a preventive asset helping to keep those situations a rarity.

Brutality has been a characteristic of some Toronto police since their founding. In recent decades, some 51 and 52 Division cops were fond of taking people they disapproved of on the “Cherry Beach Express,” sometimes referred to as “The Trailers” (because tractor-trailer rigs were parked there), and torturing them.

Police have no mandate nor right to dish out punishment to miscreants. Their duty is to impassively and accurately note the nature of an offence, cause or assist the arrest of a suspect and testify truthfully in court.

Otherwse they have no right to wear the badge of Toronto police and, if there are still people on the force without that value, they should be ferreted out and dismissed. Across the country there should be a registry of dismissed police because it’s still too easy for a disgraced officer from one force to get hired by a force in another part of Canada.

The execution of Sammy Yatim and the actions (and inactions) of police officers on the scene show us how far we need to go in order to create the sort of police force Canada’s principal city must provide to its citizens and show to the world. Policing isn’t a job. It’s a sacred trust.

— Frank Touby