Rant of the Week

Keystone Cops


The Toronto Star recently reported that 99% of the complaints made against the Metropolitan Toronto police force are resolved in favour of the police, according the "objective" civilian complaints review process.  That means that either Toronto has the greatest police force in the world-- truly, the most amazing, perhaps, in history-- , or the biggest liars.  An officer responsible for handling complaints against the police force, with a straight face,  actually insisted that the police really are in the right 99% of the time.

What kind of a person are you that you would say something so preposterous to a journalist, on the record?  What do you really think of the people out there, that would make you believe they would believe you?

Now, even if you support the police (and with the level of paranoia in our society as high as it is nowadays, that's quite likely), and even if you believe the Metropolitan Police force to be the best trained and most well-behaved in the world, it is statistically impossible that they could be right 99% of the time. It simply cannot be true. This kind of statistic is reminiscent of the old Soviet Union, when year after year, "record breaking" crops were harvested, proving the superiority of the Soviet system, while the people continued to starve.

When you think about it, it's pretty scary that the police can get away with pulling this stuff. How dare they claim to be right 99% of the time? Who's making this judgment? Who is in control here? Is there no civilian authority that can call this guy up and say, "What?  Are you out of your mind?  Don't you realize how stupid that figure sounds?  Do you want people to think you're delusional?  Withdraw the figure immediately and come up with something more credible, like 70%." 

Let's get real. Would you believe that 99% of the customer complaints against Walmart were false? Would you believe 99% of the complaints against a surgeon were false? Would you believe that 99% of the allegations of sexual abuse made against boy scout leaders or priests were false?

I don't know what the actual number of legitimate grievances against the police force should be. The Toronto Star didn't have any difficulty finding at least two representative cases that made the police look pretty bad but which the police resolved in favour of the police.  (The investigating officer decided that the two police officers, who corroborated each others' stories, were more believable than numerous civilian witnesses, who right out of the blue, for no reason at all, decided to make up a bunch of lies about two officers beating up an innocent civilian.) The point is, that even if you think the police are doing a great job, a terrific job, it is simply outside of the realm of human experience that they could be right 99% of the time, or that an honest judge would even think they were right 99% of the time even if, incredibly, they really were.

What this number really means is that if an officer pulled you over by mistake, dragged you out of your car in front of family or friends, kicked you and beat you with a club, and then tossed you into jail for a day or two until the mistake was realized…. well, who's going to stop him? If he has any hesitations about exceeding the limits of "reasonable" force, they are swept away by his acute awareness of the fact that you have only a 1% chance of success in filing a complaint. This, my friends, is about the same percentage of success you could expect in a police state.

Or you might believe that there is virtually no chance that such a thing could happen, because our Toronto police are better, and more honest, and more virtuous, than any other police force in the world.

Some cops--and some civilians too---believe that we need to give the cops more latitude to deal with those hordes of criminals out there. They believe that most law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear. Right. Like Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall, Damien Echols, and David Milgaard. Anyway, the fact that a victim of excessive police force might be innocent is beside the point. The idea that police can use excessive force on anybody, criminal or not, with impunity, is repugnant to a democracy.

The solution is simple: a civilian review board should be set up to handle all complaints against the police officers. Appoint smart, fair, and dedicated people to the board. Tell the police that because we know they are competent and professional, we expect few complaints, but that even the most competent and professional people in the world make a few mistakes, lose their cool, and do stupid things sometimes. And if the police were smart, they would welcome the increased public confidence in them that would result from a fair and impartial review board.

Unfortunately, this is pretty well exactly what they did do a few years ago.  The police complained so bitterly about actually having to be accountable to someone else that the Harris government, ever concerned about civil rights (ha ha) disbanded it.


All Contents Copyright Bill Van Dyk
 1998 All Rights Reserved