HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Crusading Police Must Not Be Above The Law
Pubdate: Sun, 01 Feb 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Section: Life
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star
Author: Alan Young
Note: Alan Young is a law professor, criminal lawyer and author of Justice 
Defiled: Perverts, Potheads, Serial Killers & Lawyers (Key Porter).


In the 1970s, the people of Toronto coined the phrase "our cops are tops." 
It's a nice sentiment but the love affair with our police may be over. Last 
year, we saw the public relations nightmare of an allegation of racial 
profiling, a denial by the police, and then an unfounded lawsuit to 
challenge the allegation in the face of mounting evidence that skin colour 
does colour the exercise of some officers' discretion.This year, the 
situation grows worse.

The Prime Minister had to remind us that we do not live in a police state 
after police raided a journalist's home to uncover a story source.

As well, we finally heard the details of serious allegations of corruption 
made against a drug squad team disbanded a few years ago under a cloud of 

Again, the police responded with denials and talk of lawsuits.

Our force might be better served by a public relations firm rather than a 
team of lawyers. I actually feel sorry for the police because so many 
dedicated crime fighters were tarnished by the front page exposure of 
officers allegedly gone bad. Although most cops discharge their duties with 
integrity, compassion and respect for the rule of law, we should not be 
smug and complacent by thinking that any problems with our police only 
concern a few bad apples.

The bad apples grow on the same tree as the good ones and it is critical to 
examine and explore the roots if we really want to improve the overall 
quality of policing in the modern era. Take the issue of racial profiling.

It is not good enough to dismiss the problem by conceding that some 
officers, just as some civilians, will harbour racist attitudes.

It is more important to look at police training and culture to determine if 
those in charge are making the necessary institutional adjustments to 
defuse and counter the growth of this social cancer.The recent allegations 
about the drug squad should come as no surprise because the criminalization 
of consensual, pleasure-seeking activities creates a policing environment 
ripe for official illegality and corruption. Alcohol prohibition in the 
1920s led to an epidemic of police bribery.

The underground speakeasy flourished in this era and its success was 
largely because owners could pay police for protection from arrest and 
prosecution. With consensual pleasure-seeking crimes there is no 
ascertainable victim calling upon the police to take action, so it is easy 
for the cop on the beat to turn a blind eye for a fee. Bribery is less of a 
problem now, but there's no question the prohibitory drug policies of this 
century can undermine the integrity of policing.From 1999 to 2001, hundreds 
of drug charges were stayed in Toronto because many of the investigating 
officers were themselves under investigation for corruption and misconduct. 
Apparently prosecutors want to avoid the embarrassment of prosecuting drug 
users and sellers who may actually be more moral than the cops who seek to 
punish them. Conventional wisdom suggests that drug law enforcement is 
"high-risk" activity for police corruption simply because drug officers 
come in contact with large sums of black market money, and there will 
always be some officers who, like Oscar Wilde, can resist anything but 
temptation. Conventional wisdom ignores the possibility that drug squad 
corruption is deeply rooted in police culture.Every time the police make a 
big bust, they strut in front of the cameras, showing off the contraband 
and praising the courageous undercover officers who infiltrated the drug 
underworld. Despite the hype, the police haven't achieved anything.

They throw one trafficker in jail and three more appear. When has a public 
official ever presented a report on the successes of the drug war? Drug use 
ebbs and flows independently of any law enforcement strategies. We have 
spent billions on helicopters, wiretap operations and undercover 
investigations ending in SWAT-team raids, with no clear results.If drug 
prohibition was designed to be the rational pursuit of public policy, we 
would eventually expect to see some positive and encouraging cost-benefit 

Public policy is designed to achieve a stated objective and the failure to 
achieve the objective should lead to abandoning or redesigning the policy.

But with the drug war we are dealing with a crusade.

A moral crusade is not evaluated by any measurable standards but by how the 
crusaders feel about themselves. Apparently the police feel pretty good 
about their work.When the police assume a crusader mentality they start to 
enforce the law in an overzealous and immoral way. Instead of giving up, 
the more they see the drug war failing, the more determined they become.

The dealers are winning so the crusading officers believe legal shortcuts 
must be taken to properly enforce the law. Facing a losing battle, the 
despairing police end up violating constitutional rights and believing 
their sacred mission puts them above the law.Perhaps these guys have seen 
too many Clint Eastwood movies and are convinced that the ends justifies 
the means.

We do little to counter this dangerous ideology as many citizens think 
moral crusaders should be allowed to break the law once in a while.

God, apple pie and motherhood may be on the side of the crusader but the 
law should not be.
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