EVERY year across the country, police and the justice system garner their fair share of headlines, and 2011 was no different.
Just two weeks into January and Toronto’s Sgt. Ryan Russell was mowed down in the line of duty trying to end a man’s rampage on a stolen snow plow.
Sadly, the story was a platform for ignorance on some media websites. So hurtful were some comments that the Globe and Mail chose to shut down its discussion page while some CBC followers busied themselves bemoaning the inconvenience of an interrupted traffic flow during the young father’s public funeral.
To the surprise of many justice watchers, Mountie management in Alberta got a pass from the inquiry that examined the Mayerthorpe tragedy where four junior RCMP officers were slaughtered by the local lunatic. Amid allegations from within the ranks that RCMP brass had given James Roszko free rein in the small community (because it was easier than putting up with his constant complaints), the inquiry was satisfied with the force’s performance — boosting skeptical thought that inquiries are much more about showcasing a particular political position and much less about inquiring.
The RCMP — this time in B.C. — was under fire (again) from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association when it was learned investigators were embarking on a so-called DNA sweep in an attempt to identify the killer of four Prince George women. While the BCCLA prattled on about the sky falling, investigators, who had been examining the files for months, continued their work that culminated in the arrest of a man who now faces charges in the four cases. The BCCLA had no comment. The role, if any, played by DNA is not yet clear.
Still with the RCMP, an officer near Winnipeg put his experience to work going above and beyond, seizing $2-million worth of cocaine during a simple traffic stop. The judge didn’t see it as good work and instead delivered a stern dressing down to the officer for what was ruled heavyhanded, egregious behaviour. With apologies from the court, the alleged coke trafficker was sent on his way.
We hear much from the critics about the inevitable federal crime bill and the potential for more of the criminal element being locked up. Hopefully, the probation officials dealing with those who have avoided jail recognize the work that’s needed in their corner after the Free Press reported that two dozen probation violations by one individual went unchallenged and only became public knowledge after the young offender went on to kill an innocent citizen.
Amid a mild decrease in the reporting of violent crime, the statistically most reliable crime — murder — smashed the Winnipeg record just 10 months into the year. Not surprisingly, that milestone has been broken a couple of more times since. It’s small consolation, but Winnipeg’s current homicide team enjoys a solve rate that is the envy of the country and those files still waiting for arrest remain active and in high gear.
After much hoopla, the province continued to drag its heels in making the much coveted police oversight body a reality. We’ve heard about its supposed need for more than 20 years. With three Manitobans shot (or shot at) recently in different parts of the province, there’s lots of work to do.
If the oversight body ever is established, we can quit pretending that bringing an officer in from Saskatoon for a few days to look in on the circumstances constitutes an independent investigation.
Controversy with the Winnipeg police centred on helicopters (legacy versus value) and photo radar (cash grab versus public safety). And while the political jabbering over whirlybirds and cameras hogs the headlines, the backbone of policing — the uniformed ranks — carry on, sometimes in the media’s glare, but usually in unassuming, unheralded ways.
Such was the case a few days before Christmas. A woman in east Winnipeg was home alone in the middle of the night when she woke to the sound of an intruder rummaging through her things. She got to a phone and within 90 seconds police were on the scene and those unsung officers (two of only 54 who work the street at night, carry handcuffs and respond to immediate needs) had the intruder in custody. Not a headline, not a scandal, no fanfare — just another satisfied customer to join the tens of thousands across the country who rely on the swift and sure actions of the police each and every year.
All the best in 2012.
Robert Marshall is a retired Winnipeg police detective.