Canadians seeing changes to police culture

wiggins.jpgWhat is happening to policing in Western Canada? The story appears to be an evolving one, but change is clearly happening. Why it is happening now is difficult to surmise.

In Southwest British Columbia the police chiefs of 3 major cities have all stepped down under a cloud of controversy.

First, there was Vancouver police chief Jamie Graham, who retired in August of last year. According to Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith, who often commented on Graham's leadership, the former RCMP officer shaped the VPD into a quasi-paramilitary force, with rigid internal loyalty and an impatience for due process on internal investigations. This might have been an exaggeration, but problems like the Stanley Park Six assaults, and Graham's own careless "good day at the firing range…" target left on the City Manager's desk were evidence of a macho environment.

Then there was the sudden dismissal by the City of West Vancouver of their own police chief, Scott Armstrong. This was followed by Victoria suspending their own police chief Paul Battershill, for reasons that were never made public by their police board. Ultimately Battershill resigned.

Couple these changes at the top with the upheaval happening in Canada's RCMP. Not only did their Commissioner resign, but there seems to be a quiet effort within the national force to now penalize Mounties who break the law.

Vancouver has a new police chief, Jim Chu, who has definitely adopted a new tone for the VPD. It's a welcome change and a credit to Vancouver's mayor and the police board that they hired the right person for the job.

As for the changes at the top of Canada's police ranks and the assertion of authority by political leaders over their police departments, it appears to be happening more often. I'm just not sure why.