Canadians want to believe in the RCMP. Most of us grew up with it as a symbol of not just law and order, but the nation. Most of us see its rank-and-file members as passionate officers dedicated to protecting us.
So when polls like one this week from Ipsos Reid show our faith is eroding, we know that faith was not shed easily. In B.C., which has the largest RCMP division and about a third of Canada’s Mounties, it’s disturbing to find the lowest levels of confidence.
The poll found that the percentage of respondents who said rank-and-file officers were doing a good job dropped 13 points to 69 per cent since a similar survey was done five years ago. The proportion who believe the top brass of the force is doing a good job dropped 15 points to 46 per cent.
In B.C., 33 per cent think the leadership is doing a good job and 58 per cent think the lower ranks are doing a good job; 54 per cent think the force is professional and treats people fairly. All those numbers are well behind the figures for other provinces.
Significantly, the poll found that only 45 per cent of respondents here thought the force would be able to stop harassment of female officers and only 39 per cent said the RCMP treats its own employees fairly and equitably.
It’s not surprising that British Columbians should have more doubts about the force. With 9,500 employees in B.C., the chances are much greater that something bad will happen here than in Saskatchewan, where there are 1,300 members. Indeed, some of the most high-profile controversies embroiling the force happened here, including the death of Robert Dziekanski after being tasered and the first allegations of sexual harassment of female officers.
Those incidents affected all the areas where faith is slipping: the competence of individual members, the conduct of the leaders and the force’s treatment of its own.
A few high-profile incidents shouldn’t shape our opinion of an organization of dedicated professionals who are out in our communities every day doing work that we all rely on. But the cases we have seen over the past few years suggest structural problems that need to be fixed and a management team that seems unable to fix them.
The top brass promised to repair the culture that allowed sexual harassment to flourish, but has met the specific allegations with denials and painted one of the women as a drunk.
Canadians have an increasing suspicion that the RCMP is solid at the bottom and rotten at the top.
Perhaps it is just that our vision of the Mounties in Canada’s younger days was too rosy. The RCMP was probably not as good as we thought in those days, and it’s probably not as bad as we think it is now.
While we must not turn a blind eye to systemic problems that demand correction, we must also look critically at the incidents that have plagued the RCMP and realize that some indicate nothing more than human beings doing an incredibly difficult job. Sometimes they make mistakes and show human weakness.
Society doesn’t benefit when citizens lose faith in the police. We must believe in them and they must know they have our trust because when citizens and police work together, our communities are safer. We are on the same side.
RCMP officers across the country do an excellent job. They will do a better one if the force can fix the problems within to restore public confidence in a vital Canadian institution.
© Copyright 2013