Tag Archives: documentation

The Myth that Policing is Dangerous: Dismantling an Excuse They Use When They Kill Us

“It’s a dangerous job.”

“They put their lives on the line every time they suit up.”

“They’re under a lot of pressure.”

“They face constant threats.”

One of the most durable and potent myths about policing is that it is dangerous work. Indeed this myth is often used to justify police violence and the lethal use of force, quick trigger fingers and a shoot to kill ethos. This myth is used as well as political capital to justify growing militarization of police forces and the increasing “equipmentization” of forces (body armor, more powerful weaponry, armored vehicles, sound cannons, riot gear, etc.).

Yet it turns out that policing is nowhere near being one of the most dangerous jobs in Canada. Not even close. As Adriana Barton puts it: “But in terms of workplace hazards, firefighters and police officers are relative lightweights compared to workers at greatest risk for job-related accidents, and death. Among the most threatening health and safety issues for police officers, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and safety lists sitting and standing for long periods (CCOHS 2016). There are ore industrial deaths in Canada ever year than the number of police officers killed in Canada throughout the country’s history. Yet cops use the dangerous job myth to justify killing poor working class people (while doing nothing about the bosses responsible for workplace deaths).

Policing do not show up on any list of most dangerous jobs in Canada.

The top 10 most dangerous jobs (and their main hazards) are as follows:

  1. Loggers: falling trees, cutting equipment.
  2. Fisheries workers: drowning, heavy equipment.
  3. Pilots and flight engineers: air disturbances, high altitudes, takeoffs and landings.
  4. Roofers: falling from heights, heat stroke in summer.
  5. Structural iron and steel workers: falling from heights, heavy materials, welding.
  6. Garbage and recyclables collectors: hazardous materials, heavy equipment, road accidents.
  7. Electrical power line installers and repairers: electricity, falling from heights.
  8. Truck drivers and mobile sales workers: road accidents, exhaustion.
  9. Farmers, ranchers, agricultural managers: heavy equipment, large animals.
  10. Construction workers: dangerous equipment and large animals. (Barton 2014)

According to statistics from AWCBC (Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada), Canada’s most dangerous industries have the following rates of fatalities. Fishing and trapping have 52 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers. Mining, quarrying and oil wells have 46.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Logging and forestry have 33.3 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers. For construction the rate of fatalities is 20.2 per 100,000. The rate for transportation and storage is 16.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

And no one is willing to concede that the great danger faced by workers in these jobs justifies or legitimizes their killing people because they are under pressure, exposed to dangers, or simply afraid. “Going postal” should properly be termed “going cop” and should have been all along.

These are primarily blue collar jobs. And they typically do not pay anywhere near what police are paid in Canada. A recent survey of 4,500 Canadian police officers by Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of Western University found that 52 per cent of cops earn between $80,000 and $99,000 and 38 per cent earn $100,000 or more (cited in Quan 2012). Maclean’s magazine, the national newsweekly in Canada refers to police officers as part of Canada’s “new upper class” (Macdonald 2013).

In Windsor, Ontario, one of the most economically depressed cities in the country 40 percent of the police force took home more than $100,000 in 2012. In 2013, an arbitrator awarded the police a substantial 12 per cent pay hike over four years, retroactive to 2011 (Macdonald 2013). This despite one murder in the city over the previous three years combined and an overall decrease in crime rates. According to Maclean’s, police in British Columbia out-earned engineers, whose 2012 median income was $87,500, as reported by the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (Macdonald 2013). The median income for a police officer in Abbotsford was reported as $107,000 while provincially the median income for municipal police officers was around $95,000 (Macdonald 2013).

That is quite impressive danger pay. It far exceeds the pay of most of the workers in the actually dangerous jobs in Canada. Where is their danger pay? Quite the opposite. The average Canadian logger, the most dangerous job in Canada by many counts, earns a paltry $26,500 a year (Barton 2014).

Police promote and prey upon people’s fears of the scary, anonymous criminal, the bad person who seeks to harm us and against whom the police must always be armed, dangerous, and ready to kill (to defend themselves, of course). Yet people in Canada are consistently more likely to be killed simply trying to put food on the table or a roof over their heads. Twice as many people in Canada are killed carrying out their job than are murdered every year in Canada. In the Canadian context there are about five fatalities on the job per workday (Swartz 2016). There are typically more than 1,000 deaths each year in workplaces. Even more, there are about 15.5 cases of work-related injuries per thousand people employed in Canada (Swartz 2016). These are almost all avoidable deaths that occur simply because bosses are cutting corners and costs to increase profits. They are homicides.

Yet civilians are far more likely to be killed by police than police have to fear from civilians. A study by Whittingham in 1984, one of the few to study the issue in the Canadian context, found that between 1975 and 1979 the homicide rates per 100,000 for police officers were substantially lower than for the general public. Indeed the homicide rates for police officers were a minuscule 0.1 while for members of the general public the rates were 2.91 (Whittingham 1984). In reality it was safer being a police officer in Canada, considerably safer than simply being a person. So much for the dangerous job claim.

In reality the supposed scary criminal of police mythology has far more to fear from police than the other way around. As do we all.

Even if one looks at homicides the numbers are telling. Between 1961 and 2009 the Canadian government reports that 133 police personnel have been victims of homicide. Most of those deaths occurred in the first half of that time period, between 1961 and 1984. That was a period in which violent crime rates in Canada were up as a whole. Still that number puts police well behind other occupations. Taxi drivers are victims of on the job homicide at rates twice that of police. Some would suggest that other jobs such as sex work are even more dangerous and sex workers subject to even higher on the job homicide rates. The horrible irony is that, based on conversations with sex workers and street advocates, a number of those homicides likely come at the hands of police officers but will never be reported as such or perpetrators identified let alone charged or convicted.

Historically, a total of 234 officers with the RCMP and its predecessor, the North West Mounted Police, have died in the line of duty. Most of these were the result of accidents and natural disasters. The total number of RCMP officers shot and killed on duty is 78. In about a century-and-a-half (CBC News 2014).

Unfortunately there is no systematic record keeping of people killed by police in Canada. And, as stated above, there is no way to gain access to or record people who have been killed by police in back alleys or on the outskirts of town (as in the so-called “Blue Tours” in which police infamously drop largely indigenous people on the edge of town, in the snow, in the middle of a Canadian winter). So the numbers of people killed by cops in Canada is inevitably an undercount.  Still a few groups and individuals do try. Research done by killercopscanada and the Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policier (la CRAP) suggests that since 1987 there have been at least 847 people killed through contact with police in Canada. That number would be more than the number of police fatalities, of all forces, federal, provincial, and municipal, combined since 1865—before there was a Canada!

The myth of policing as a dangerous, risky, or threatening job is a political tool. It is promoted by corporate media, police associations, and governments to both justify and increase funding for forces (already the largest expenditure of municipal budgets) and to legitimize the regular and ongoing use of often lethal force against civilian, mostly poor working class, people. It is an ideological mechanism in regimes of regulation and accumulation. And it allows them to arm to the teeth, shoot first and ask questions later—and kill us with impunity.

 

Further Reading

Barton, Adriana. 2014. “And the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs Are.” Globe and Mail. Jan. 15. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/and-the-top-10-most-dangerous-jobs-are/article16352517/

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2016. “OHS Answer Fact Sheet: Police.” http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/occup_workplace/police.html

CBC News. 2014. “Killed in the Line of Duty: History of RCMP Shooting Deaths.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. June 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/killed-in-the-line-of-duty-history-of-rcmp-shooting-deaths-1.2665668

Dunn, Sara. 2010. “Police Officers Murdered in the Line of Duty 1961–2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2010003/article/11354-eng.htm

Macdonald, Nancy. 2013. “The $100,000 Club: Who’s Really Making Big Money These Days?” Maclean’s. April 15.  http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/the-new-upper-class/

Quan, Douglas. 2012. “Canadian Police Officers Overworked, Understaffed, Stressed Out: Surevy.” Postmedia News. April 24. http://www.canada.com/health/Canadian+police+officers+overworked+understaffed+stressed+survey/6506477/story.html

Swartz, Mark. 2016. “Canada’s Most Dangerous Jobs: Weighing the Risks of Hazardous Careers.” Monster. http://career-advice.monster.ca/job-hunt-strategy/company-industry-research/canada-most-dangerous-jobs-ca/article.aspx

Whittingham, Michael D. 1984. “Police/Public Homicides and Fatalities in Canada: A Current Assessment—Serving and Being Protected.” Canadian Police Chief. 3(10): 4–8

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Independent Investigations?: The Failings of the IIO and Police Oversight in British Columbia

British Columbia is in the midst of a crisis involving police killings of civilians over the period of several years. The Independent Investigations Office, set up to address the use of lethal force by police in the province has in its few years of existence shown the perils and limitations of such would be oversight efforts. As in other cases issues of independence, and fortitude in the face of police backlash have come to the fore.

There are currently only five police oversight agencies in Canada. This is a small minority in a country with ten provinces and three territories. The first such oversight agency was established in Ontario, the country’s largest province, in 1990. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is still viewed by many as the model such agency, nationally and, for some, globally, despite ongoing, well documented, structural limitations and continued interference and non-participation by police. The next oversight agency came almost a decade later when the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was established in 2008. The Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team was set up in 2012, the same year that the IIO was established in British Columbia. In 2013 Manitoba set up the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba.

The Independent Investigations Office in British Columbia was created in response to recommendations resulting from two public inquiries into police involved killings, including the infamous police killing of Robert Dziekanski in which police lied publicly about events of the killing before a civilian video appeared to show police claims to be bold lies. The mandate of the IIO is to probe all police-involved incidents that result in death or serious harm. The IIO currently consists of 34 investigators. This includes team directors, forensics staff, affected-persons liaisons, and public accountability staff.

The first few years of its existence has been rocky, to put it in its nicest possible light. The IIO began operations a year later than planned (Sept. 10, 2012) and over its first few years has suffered a range of problems and missteps. These include questions about its framework, low morale, high attrition, and ongoing concerns about how the office has investigated some of its cases. Allegations that chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal was harassing and bullying staff led to an investigation by the British Columbia government. Stunningly, 22 of the IIO’s 50 employees quit or were fired in the first two years (Saltman 2016).

The IIO staff recognize that the first few years have been a struggle and much work still needs to be done. The next chief civilian director of the IIO enters the position in 2017. According to current chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal: “We’re four years old. Hopefully we’re not sticking our fingers in electrical outlets, but we’re still very young, we’re still emerging, we’re still developing. Nobody can say what this organization is really going to look like 10 years from now” (quoted in Saltman 2016). Yet the newly developed directions in IIO training and practices raise real questions about its future as anything approaching an effective police oversight agency.

The IIO has appeared to capitulate to criticism over cases that have found against police officers. Those cases have been responded to by a great deal of public propaganda by police officers, agencies, and supporters. This media flak by police associated sources has been effective in putting the office on the defensive. Senior director of investigations, Patrick Kennedy suggests: “Civilian oversight is challenging because you have to look at it from a different perspective and a different paradigm” (quoted in Saltman 2016).

In response to police initiated criticisms the office has planned a new training program introduced in February 2016 involving the swearing in of seven new investigators. Under the new training program, investigators now complete a six- to eight-week induction and then spend three months training at the Justice Institute of B.C. Yet the Justice Institute is the police training institution in British Columbia. It is part of and central to policing in the province. Instructors are typically police officers, many of whom are currently active on the force. This is in no way independent training and it raises fundamental questions about investigators’ relationships with and commitments to their instructors, the institution, and the police forces in British Columbia. Investigators will work cases for 12 to 18 months before they can act as primary investigators. While the IIO states its hope that the training will help the organization move toward one day being completely staffed by civilians, this raining program largely undermines this stated hope. Notably the “independent” investigators have expressed satisfaction with the new arrangement.

The records related to the cases within the Independent Investigations Office are quite telling: There have been 156 cases investigated by the IIO since the office opened in September 2012. Forty-four cases remain open. There have been 112 cases that have been closed. Of those closed cases, 48 resulted in reports to Crown counsel and 64 resulted in public reports exonerating the officers involved. An improbably low number of seven cases have seen any charges approved by the Crown. Of these, two cases resulted in stays of proceedings, two resulted in pleas, one resulted in an acquittal, and two are pending. The office has probed 29 officer-involved shootings. In 17 cases, the shootings were fatal while the rest of them resulted in serious harm. Between September 2014 and September 2015 alone there were 20 fatalities that the IIO was called to investigate. Twelve of these involved shooting deaths of civilians by police (Saltman 2016).

Among the greatest current worries about the IIO has been the backlog of cases that has quickly built up in a short period of time. The office presently has 44 open cases, an incredible 10 of which are more than one year old. This has made things very difficult and painful for victims harmed by police and for families of victims killed by police. It has also put pressure on Crown prosecutors in making decisions about charges, already a rare circumstance in police involved killings. Incredibly, the IIO blames the backlog on the large increase in police involved killings (which the IIO was instituted to help reduce).

There have also been concerns about the limited mandate and limited definitions of police involved harms. Currently domestic violence and sexual assaults by police are not included within the IIO mandate for investigations.

 

Further Reading

Saltman, Jennifer. 2016. “B.C.’s Cop Watchdog Gets More Teeth: Dogged by Controversy, the IIO is Hiring More Investigators to Tackle Police Death Complaints.” The Province. February 21. http://www.theprovince.com/news/watchdog+gets+more+teeth/11734645/story.html


Nunavut: People who Died in Police Custody Since 1987

Nunavut: People who Died in Police Custody Since 1987:

• Adamie Nuturaluk, 56, d. Dec. 2009

Source: Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers (la C.R.A.P)


Yukon: People who Died in Police Custody Since 1987

Yukon: People who died in police custody since 1987:

• Harley Clayton Johnnie, 22, d. Sept. 8, 1998
• Clark Whitehouse, 34, d. Sept. 28, 2003
• Raymond Silverfox, 43, d. Dec. 2, 2008

Source: Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers (la C.R.A.P)


Newfoundland: People who Died Following a Police Intervention Since 1987

Newfoundland: People who died following a police intervention since 1987:

• Darryl Power, 23, d. Oct. 16, 2000
• Don Dunphy, 59, d. April 5, 2015

Source: Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers (la C.R.A.P)


Nova Scotia: People who Died through contact with Police Since 1987

Nova Scotia: People who Died through contact with Police Since 1987

People who died following a police intervention:

• Patrick Hanna, 31, d. Nov. 13, 1990
• Paul Saulnier, 42, d. July 15, 2005
• John Simon, d. Dec. 2, 2008

People who died in police custody:

• Howard Hyde, 45, d. Nov. 22, 2007
• Ryan Allen MacKay, 28, d. Jan. 25, 2009
• Victoria Rose Paul, 44, d. Sept. 5, 2009
• Lawrence Ports, 60, d. Oct. 11, 2013

Source: Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers (la C.R.A.P)


New Brunswick: People who Died through Contact with Police Since 1987

New Brunswick: People who Died through Contact with Police Since 1987

People who died following a police intervention:

• Kevin Geldart, 34, d. May 5, 2005
• Daniel Levesque, 30, d. July 13, 2013
• William David McCaffrey, 26, d. Feb. 28, 2014

People who died in police custody:

• Randy Trenholm, 50, d. June 2, 2007

People who died following a traffic incident involving a police officer:

• Mélissa Gallant, 16, d. Feb. 15, 1999
• Stanly Léger, d. Feb. 15, 1999
• Jérémie Fournier, d. Sept. 15, 2004

Source: Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers (la C.R.A.P)