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Sammy Yatim: Why?

Aug 05

The profile of civilian policing in North America has changed; and much of it is due to two “wars”. The “wars” I refer to are the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. The most alarming side effect of these “wars” has been the militarization of policing and the way civilian law enforcement goes about its daily business.

As Canada is so closely tied to its neighbour to the south, it is best to begin there. There are a couple of facets to the paradigm shift that law enforcement in the US is undergoing. The first is the breakdown of the long American tradition of civil-military separation. In the past several decades since the declaration of the War on Drugs, Congress has increasingly assigned law enforcement duties to the military. Second, police officers, from municipal to federal, are increasingly coming to resemble soldiers in their training, equipment and tactics (have you perused an issue of the Tactical Edge lately?). Most American citizens seem to have regarded this gradual, almost imperceptible, shift as a trade off for their safety. To put this all in perspective consider these seminal events:

Some of you may remember that I was involved as a consultant to the FBI during the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff at Waco Texas. I was surprised to learn that US federal law enforcement agents were trained by Army Special Forces, at Ft. Hood Texas, prior to their fateful raid on the Davidian compound. Moreover, it was Delta Force Commanders who advised Attorney General Janet Reno to insert gas into the compound to terminate the 51-day siege.

As early as the 2 year period between 1995 and 1997 the US Dept. of Defense gave American police departments 1.2 million pieces of military equipment, including grenade launchers, and armoured personnel carriers. To date, the LAPD has amassed hundreds of Army surplus M-16s.

For several decades the US Congress has been encouraging the American military to provide training, equipment, and intelligence to civilian police. This has inevitably lead to local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel adopting the tactics and mindset of their mentors. While this may have a certain cosmetic appeal, to those who feel unsafe, a problem arises. The military and law enforcement mandates are very different. The soldier is an instrument of war and is trained to do maximum damage; the soldier’s mandate is “to close with and destroy”. The police, on the other hand, are expected to keep the peace, to use minimum force, and to bring suspected criminals to the court. The overarching mandate of the police is to “serve and protect”. The confusing of these two mandates can have disastrous consequences.

But this is Canada, you say! All I have been talking about is the American experience? The connection is made through training. Canadian and American law enforcement have a strong cross-border relationship. It is even stronger today in the post 9-11 scramble to integrate more and more Canadian and US law enforcement functions. Many Canadian police persons go south to attend conferences and training courses. And coming in the opposite direction, many US law enforcement personnel come north to train our police persons. As a consequence of the War on Terror, more training has become the norm; bigger and better equipment (e.g. armoured vehicles, sound cannons) is more easily justified.

It is becoming apparent, to some, that this Canadian-American cross-polinization has come with some unintended consequences. Far too many Canadian citizens are becoming the victims of excessive force (e.g. Robert Dziekanski – Vancouver; Thomas McKay – Victoria; G-20 – Toronto; Mark Krupa- Ottawa; Tyler Archer- Victoria; Bill Berry- Red Deer; Willow Kinlock- Victoria; Sammy Yatim- Toronto?).

In his report, following the Braidwood Commission of Inquiries, Commissioner Braidwood made some scathing comments. One of those comments was directed at the two use-of-force “experts” that had been called to testify. One of these individuals represented the RCMP and the other represented the Vancouver Police Department. The Commissioner’s comment was:

“I interpret the expert testimony of these two senior and experienced officers as reflecting the use-of-force training that occurs within the RCMP at large and in BC’s municipal police departments. If that is so, it troubles me greatly”.

I suppose that as Canadian civilian police are inevitably influenced by their American counterparts who now carry military equipment, get military training and embrace military culture and values we shouldn’t be surprised when the former begin to act like soldiers, treat Canadian citizens like enemy combatants, and regard private property as if it was a piece of the battlefield.

In closing, I will clarify and say that I don’t hold the young members on the street entirely responsible. In most cases they are doing what they have been trained to do. Who trained them? Better yet, which senior executives were involved in the decisions that paved the way for the militarization of Canadian civilian policing? Even better where is our government?

“Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.

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12 Comments
  1. Bob Perry permalink

    There is a strong sense among some circles in the RCMP training world that an imbalance has occurred with respect to use of force training. There is arguably an overemphasis on “tactical” training with little to no effort put into de-escalation training through “talking” as a purposeful strategy.

    Tactical training has its proper place – after all we want our front line personnel to be safe given he myriad of dangers out there – but not to the exclusion of other training strategies. Note that in British Columbia both police use of force models (IMIM for RCMP/National Use of Force Model for BC agencies) have “talking” as a police first response component.

    If one were to take some time to review Coroners cases involving police-involved-shootings, the employment of containment and talking/dialogue techniques was readily absent in many of the cases; and/or was too short/ineffective. That is not to say that some important work is not being done in this area.

    The Crises Intervention & De-escalation Course, designed in collaboration between the RCMP, BC police agencies and B.C. Police Services Division is an excellent example of a solid first step towards “balancing” the police first response scales. The training couples online, classroom and scenario based training in utilizing a communication model for de-escalation. It is not a panacea but a good first step.

    The use and availability of trained negotiators is additionally integral, however typically requires the first police response (e.g. uniformed officers) to contain and de-escalate if possible while they mobilize. Police agencies need to be cautious around the “militarization” of their tactical response units and the manner in which use of force training is delivered.

    Naturally this must fall to the head of the police agency. Though I suspect the Commissioner of the RCMP has his hands full with other matters at this time.

    • Anonymous permalink

      I again agree with you. Too often I see younger members (less 10 yrs, I have 25) always reach for some weapon – they never try to talk. They can Yell but not talk or listen to what is going on. Me and my partners have told trng branch and supervisor’s this only to be told our ways are old and obsolete… Hey when the client ends up in the back seat without having to fight we are all winners. The only toys we had were talking to them or run back and get the baton, I’m very thankful that the baton is on the belt now. Don’t get me wrong trng is good, new equipement is great… But talking to the person always made things easier.

  2. There is another aspect to this: dumping of military surplus. US arms manufacturers need a continuous flow of clients. That market seems to be reaching saturation, so what better way to keep the gravy train rolling than to provide a domestic dumping ground for “old” equipment.

    • Jeff Who permalink

      There is no “dumping of old equipment”. Manufacturers cannot keep up with demand let alone get rid of stock by dumping it. Any old stock (like the Chinese SKS or Norinco stuff) are not approved by any self-respecting armourer. Wait times for rifles, magazines even ammunition are increasing. You might want to check your facts, there is no boogey man turning the police into Third world rebels.

  3. janosthegreat permalink

    All nice and comfortable from behind a desk. In court the shift has been to thinking that if the member takes a couple of shots to the head or kicks to the body that it is part of the job. Sorry, they do not pay me enough to take a beating from anyone. If the courts were to protect the police as in the past, there would be less violence towards us. Prosecutors are subject to threats, their parents are subject to drive-by from motorcycle thugs, defense counsels are threatened, and the system does nothing. Police officers are threatened regularly. You want to remove the defensive mentality from the police, then you will have to safeguard the system with zero tolerance for those that are a threat to people who work in it. Without protection from society the police are vulnerable to everything. The inevitable result will be that members will continuously not do the more dangerous parts of the job for fear of two things. Lack of support from the organization and lack of protection from society and the courts. Its already happening and getting worse. Although Anon is correct in the use of talk first, the mouth being your best weapon, it gets less effective as the respect for the law evaporates.

    Dr. Webster references the US. Remember the old adage that we are only 15 to 20 years behind them in everything? Its true.

    • Bob Perry permalink

      No one is suggesting to remove or even lessen our tactical training capabilities for front line troops.Yes, it is a dangerous world out there compounded by the number of “outpatient mentally ill” roaming our streets – I would never allow one of my members to take a shot to the head or a kick first – always be in a position to defend yourself. The course I referenced reinforces that point.

      But telling someone repeatedly to “drop the knife” in a loud, excited voice with no change in the suspects behaviour is not going to cut it in the eyes of a reasonable person. We need to be able to elevate “our game” to meet the new challenges – otherwise lets pack up and move on.

      I might point out that police have always been vulnerable – we deal daily with the greatest threat’s on earth – human unpredictability. If police officers cannot rise to the danger and threat then they should not be in the profession.

      You have the support of society – they allow for the formation of police officers and give them significant powers to protect society at large. It really is unclear what you want from society in terms of support – we support each other in an unforgiving world. We are paid to deal with the worst that humanity has to offer and every level in between.

      If your looking for support look no further than your brother/sister officer – we all need to know they will be there when he odiferous, somewhat malleable fecal matter strikes the wind; mechanically induced or otherwise.

      The issue of holding miscreants who assault police to account is a more complicated discussion. Based on the results of the death penalty as a deterrence philosophy in the United States, at first blush it is not clear if that would have any impact in reducing police related assaults.

      But we need to be open to other possibilities rather than reaching for the baton or lethal force – at least without being able to safely say we tried ‘X’ and it did not work. It is not just about using our capacities to dialogue and de-escalate; it includes having readily available training for all in less than-lethal (LTL) force and the LTL tools to deploy.

      It also includes enhancing critical thinking skills and using reinforcing the use of decision making models (e.g. as in ISEP) that enhances our response – not detracts. Sammy Yatim is not an isolated case in the questioning of the use of lethal force by the police and it is not a matter of Monday morning quarterbacking. If we cannot learn from these events then lets pack up and go home.

      Clarity often surfaces in strange places – even behind a desk at times; though in my case it took twenty-five years of GD frontline service of my thirty-one plus years to get there.

  4. janosthegreat permalink

    How laudable that: ” I would never allow one of my members to take a shot to the head or a kick first – always be in a position to defend yourself.” Unfortunately you are not always around at 3 in the morning at the domestic when “stuff” happens, or with the member on the side of the road arresting an impaired driver with the nearest back up an hour away. And the arrestee does not always cooperate or respond to being treated with respect and dignity, especially when intoxicated, high or both. The members I work with are always ready to defend themselves, but if you have arrested violent and unstable people by yourself you will know that you take some shots, especially with more than one person against you, you know that it happens and when the tale is recounted for the RTCC and in the courtroom little is done for the members.

    No sure how much time you spent of your last 10 or 15 years in court but I can assure you that the court is not responding to assaults on the members like they used to. Assault PO/resist is the first charge dealt away with by the weak kneed Crown even if, and I mean IF, they actually lay the charge.

    You say “If police officers cannot rise to the danger and threat then they should not be in the profession. ” After your stint in training you should know that the hiring practices of the RCMP as dictated by the Federal Govt does little to adhere to such an inane statement in today’s world. The very fact that Dr. Webster has innumerable clients who have succumbed to the work atmosphere and the internal work atmosphere should be an indicator to you that all is not well in that “not be in the profession” statement. How many regular members have been in remedial shooting for years? How many actually even do the PARE anymore?

    Almost every inquest trots out the “more training” mantra. Sorry, a trained psychiatrist could not deal with a mental case wielding a knife, and that is his profession. You misinterpret my meaning on the US. Any of my American relatives will tell you that you should always do as the police tell you in a strange situation or you could get sprayed, clubbed, or shot. Don’t know how you segued to the death penalty there. We could always take away the baton and the spray and leave the hands, mouth and gun like the old days. Seemed to work pretty good back then, even on the prairies where I started.

    • Bob Perry permalink

      What do you think the RCMP needs to do to preclude diverting off the main track to the siding that ends at the cliff’s edge?

  5. code-two permalink

    Let me jump in here and add to the discussion you two are having. Tell me if you disagree janosthegreat and bob. This is what I think should happen. Remember, each point here could be a major discussion on its own.

    I do not think it is rocket science to move the ship the few degrees needed to correct the course. I see the ship now as having constant small course changes all the time and that is the first thing that needs to stop. Institute a simple formula for change at the working level: 1. Examine the present situation and the factors that made it so; 2. Determine if the factors remain or have changed; 3. After consultation implement changes only if absolutely necessary.

    Secondly, the implementing of a mandatory 360 degree assessment prior to promotion in alignment with mandatory courses in areas of need identified by such an assessment. Given and analyzed by outside HR professionals. We all know of first class, tenacious investigators who get promoted and do not have a grasp on the ability/tools to handle personnel effectively.

    Separate employer status, including getting the Commissioner out of the office of the Minister. Control over our own hiring/firing practices (per agreements) and not the govt of the day directives. The RCMP should report to a civilian board (with RCMP positions).

    Recognized accounting practices instead of the mishmash of interpreted Treasury Board rules and bureaucracy.

    An association to represent the entire membership, with a nation wide contract defining the roles and responsibilities at every turn. Those of us that have worked in different Provinces know that procedures in all areas from internal investigations to lunch claims, are quite different. Management too often dictates procedures from their own playbook. Look to places like Vancouver PD who have an excellent Management/Union/Membership relationship for guidance.

    Relieve the front line members in uniform of the records functions they now are a slave to. Simplify the input of data and relegate it to clerks.

    Fill the empty positions for the health and welfare of the members and their families.

  6. janosthegreat permalink

    Dont mind you jumping in. You said it pretty good. I would just add that we are way too top heavy with management. That promotion process is a joke. I like your idea of the 360, I have heard that before and we have mention of it in policy but making it mandatory and done by an outside body makes sense.

    A big problem with management is that you promote someone, give them a sword and ouila, they are an expert in everything. Send them to a large det and put them in charge of GI and they think they can tell the sex crime, fraud, major crime, and drug guys how to do their job. Stick to MEAL at that level and don’t worry about the operational stuff. Get the members the stuff they need and stay in your office, and figure out how not to manage by code.

  7. Calvin Lawrence permalink

    Sammy Yatim shot 8 times on TTC streetcar:
    ————————————————————
    In keeping with my previous comments regarding this incident. To repeat:.

    Prior to the police using deadly force against a person, that person must have the ability, means, and intent, to inflict death or grievous bodily harm against the police officer or others. Also all other means must have been attempted to defuse the situation….
    The intent aspect and the other means of defusing the situation must have been attempted. This aspect seems to be the contentious area. Again I encourage the readers to visit the “Use of Force Model” which is on line. The model is a guide and not a blue print for police responses. (See Below)

    Google “Images for use of force model ontario – Report images”

    I suspect that the video inside the bus may play a major factor in the charges being laid. But please understand that even a video does not portray the whole situation. The factor of”Hormel Induced Stress” on the police officer cannot be measured on a video.

    Police Culture:
    The culture of policing has changed. Individual police officers have been assaulting citizens, using their firearms in a careless manner, driving impaired, lying in court under oath and more. The courts don’t appear to care. They continue to give absolute discharges allowing the police officer to keep his/her job. The crown does not care. There are no appeals to the sentencing. The police unions are only concerned with clearing the police officers. The unions do no do proactive work with their officers that is demonstrated to the public. The police supervisors are unable or unwilling to hold individuals accountable for their conscious actions. Reportedly during the G8 Summit police officers removed their name tags. What is the message convoyed with that action?

    Police Training:
    There is a big difference between talking to a mentally ill person vs a mentally ill person who may kill you or someone else. What is required is reality based training. A class room setting just won’t work.
    The below approach would work and is out there.

    “Google “Verbal Judo Canada”

    The people who talk of shooing the knife out of his hand and shooting to wound have no idea what is happening in the world of life and death violence. They should educate themselves about these matters or just be quiet. The below might help:

    Google “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in Society.. –

    Conclusion:
    This police officer may be found guilty or Innocent of the charges. The fact is we as a society get the police officers we demand. The mentally ill get the help that we demand. This police officer entered a flawed system that has been tolerated for too long. He is as much of a victim as the person he shot. Don’t call him a veteran police officer. Call him a casualty of a flawed police system.

    Calvin Lawrence 36 yr. Police officer Retired

    • Bob Perry permalink

      Appears that the “casualty” count is getting exceedingly high these days across many police agencies. I accept there are many flaws but there are also pockets of innovation, creativity and good police management.

      We must be careful not to acquiesce to the “flawed system” but individually and as a group work towards a better organization within our spheres of influence; and perhaps also outside those influential spheres. At this rate change may need a generation or two to fully realize the organizations we want them to be.

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