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October 31, 2019

Police Misconduct

Reuel S. Amdur

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As the Roman poet Juvenal put it, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchers themselves? We have the police to protect us, but we sometimes need protection from them as well. There have been a number of incidents in which people have been the victims. The most glaring and public of these get attention and sometimes appropriate action is taken. One thinks of the Toronto case of Sammy Yatim, shot by officer James Forcillo. Yatin was behaving in a bizarre fashion but was no immediate danger to anyone at the time. Forcillo was convicted.

Other cases are well under the radar.  I am a social worker, and one of my clients complained about being subjected to torture.  He was lying face down on the floor with hands cuffed behind his back.  As he relates it, one of the police lifted him up by the handcuffs, causing extreme pain in wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  When I mentioned the occurrence to a newspaper reporter, he replied that that treatment is not unknown.

I have encountered two men who while on the floor in that situation were assaulted by police.  One was kicked in the ribs.  In the other case, an officer twisted his hand, breaking it.

There are instances where men are face down outside on the ground, doing nothing, but the officer involved shouts “Stop resisting!” or “Stop hitting me!” to give cover for the administration of punishment. 

Searches are other situations where abuse occurs.  The media note from time to time that facilities that are searched are left in a mess.  I am aware of a couple instances in which the raiding officers found great amusement in finding a woman’s panties and sex toys.

Why do these things happen?  It is a commonplace: Power corrupts.  As well, police are human, and when people are frustrated, they may act out.  We must also realize that police often encounter people who are unsavory or who have committed vicious acts.  Police may react in revulsion and anger.

What should we expect?  When officers execute a search warrant, they should do so with the same care and respect that they would use in executing a warrant on the residence of the Governor General or the Prime Minister.  No showing sex toys around for general amusement and sexual titillation.  Of course, unnecessary violence is always totally out of bounds.

We should expect this kind of behavior for two reasons.  First, it is their responsibility as police.  Second, in a fairly short period of time they earn upwards of $100,000 a year.  We have a right to expect professional behavior from people receiving that kind of money from the public purse.

While the wrong-doers may well be in the minority, their behavior is largely hidden by the police code.  It is the same as that of men in prison: Don’t “rat.”

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