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It ain't easy being blue

Winnipeg officer sides with his fellow cops in examining issues facing today's police

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/11/2013 (1384 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Public police officers have a tough job. This is Winnipeg police officer Robert Chrismas's unsurprising contention in a new book that largely defends the work done by Canada's men in blue.

However, Canadian Policing in the 21st Century does not have much to do with Canadian policing in a broad sense. There is not a lot on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for instance. It is not a systematic study of municipal or provincial policing practices across Canada.

BRYAN SCHLOSSER / Regina Leader-Post


BRYAN SCHLOSSER / Regina Leader-Post

What Chrismas does give the reader are attention-grabbing reflections on almost 30 years of serving in numerous high-ranking positions with the Winnipeg Police Service.

Chrismas, who is doing his PhD in peace and conflict studies at the University of Manitoba, addresses several topics using examples from Winnipeg. The first chapter offers a cursory history of policing. The next chapters assess the changing roles of public police and the increasing costs of crime.

Chrismas then examines how technology has altered policing, and how demographic shifts have transformed the composition of police forces. He provides chapters on police training and accountability, Generation X and Y police officers, and police relations with First Nations Peoples.

His prose is clear. Despite the book being published by an academic press, it does not employ an overly academic style of argumentation.

The book appears to be aimed at multiple audiences -- scholars, police, the public in Winnipeg -- but does not quite pull it off. This is because, throughout the book, Chrismas's message moves in different directions. Diverse narratives sometimes appear contradictory.

For instance, Chrismas makes claims such as "sentencing people to longer prison sentences without effectively addressing the root causes of the problems that put them in prison ensures that the cost of the system will soar upward."

This sentiment is suggestive of a professional who knows tougher policing does not help to deal with crime and poverty.

But then Chrismas shifts gears and makes stark statements in a heroic tenor, such as "the evolution from the use of manual typewriters (when writing occurrence reports) to today's globally connected digital world does not redefine the ageless fight between good and evil -- it only changes the weapons and the battleground." This makes it sound as if police are on the side of good, while all people accused of and caught breaking the law are on the side of evil.

Such aggressive language may also undermine Chrismas's aim to persuade readers that police have addressed disorder in their own ranks. Chrismas argues all of the following: that abusive practices such as "starlight tours" have ended; that police corruption exists only in movies and on television; that acts of sexual harassment in the force have ended or are "isolated incidents"; and that there is no racial profiling by police today, only criminal profiling. Should we take Chrismas's word for it?

Chrismas certainly substantiates his assertion that policing is a physically strenuous and mentally stressful job. No doubt the heroic and social work aspects of policing that he shares from his experiences are true and are examples of what he calls "police compassion."

The problem is how virtuous police come out looking. The book casts police predominantly in a positive light, making them look like they are victims of forces beyond their control: criminals, politicians, access to information, media, Manitoba's Law Enforcement Review Agency, commissions of inquiry, and bureaucracy.

There is not much acknowledgement that, despite the good that police may do, many people legitimately fear police profiling and violence. A 2007 report by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission included accounts of sexual harassment and abuse toward aboriginal and immigrant women and men by police in Winnipeg. Chrismas does not cite this report.

Now, such a report does not tell the whole story of policing, either. But it diminishes the credibility of Chrismas's contribution when data running so contrary to his heroic narrative are absent as a reference and source.

Given the detailed account of local police work that Chrismas provides, Winnipeggers might wish to grab a copy and pass their own judgment.

Kevin Walby is an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg.


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