Some time ago, it seems, something about the world changed. At an undefined time, the world - at the street level; the REAL world level - suddenly became a more dangerous place. It happened at different times in different countries, but it now appears to be th enorm in the country of my birth. I see evidence of the same issue in my adopted country, and the ramifications are huge.
I shall, of course, elucidate.
Somewhere, somehow, while I was wide awake but apparently unaware, the world became a place to inhabit in an almost permanent state of fear. On a national and individual scale, fear became a predominant message, an almost overwhelming permanent state of being. Our public media outlets are almost entirely to blame for this - in particular since September 11th 2001 - but we as individuals also need our backsides kicking for becoming abject, acquiescing partners to this change in atmosphere.
The picture at the top illustrates a symbol of this swing in approach. Police departments in the USA (god bless her and all who sail in her), have become increasingly militarized over the last fifteen years, and of course especially since 9/11 (how could we forget it with all the reminders), a process which has had the completely foreseeable effect of forcing a bigger and bigger wedge between police and public. This is in itself a tragedy, since the whole purpose of the police is top work alongside and to protect the public from those who feel that the agreed, established and formalized moral and ethical values of society don't apply to them. A police force divorced from the public becomes little more than a standing army with reduced and reducing accountability, and a force to be feared by the public, rather than respected and embraced.
Here in Canada, the effect is by no means as extreme, but it's on its way.
The three most obvious symptoms of a climate of fear spreading amongst our police officers is the growing presence of the following;
Semi automatic weapons,
These three things tell us how the police feel that their working environment is changing. I'm not sure that the evidence supports this kind of response, but it's happening anyway, and it's happening without our (the public's) cooperation or consultation. An American approach to policing (namely that of the general public somehow becoming 'the enemy' in some assort of pseudo-military ongoing battle) is being spread across the continent by American training techniques, sometimes supplied by police departments, and sometimes by the trainers of commercial companies (Tazer, Monadnock), the latter having only one purpose; to promote the uptake of their employer's products. The best way to sell offensive/defensive weapons to a police force/department is to scare the crap out of them - and that's what seems to be happening.
The exact reasons why the mindset is changing are no doubt many; I'd need a book to go into them - so perhaps I'll limit myself here to what I see with my own eyes as I work alongside police officers in my own country (i.e., not the apparently permanent battle ground of suburban and urban America) several days a week.
Let's get one thing straight; I am a supporter of the police. Police officers do a job which is far, far more difficult than anyone who has never done it will ever fully understand. Walk a tightrope over a pit of hissing members of malevolent haters while juggling all the stake holder's interests and without the aid of a safety net - then you'll have an idea of how it feels to every day make decisions which will affect other people's lives (often to their dissatisfaction) for the greater good. It's one of the top five most important roles in society, and probably the least appreciated. Everybody loves to slam the cops - but not me. I hate to slam the cops, but sometimes I have to admit, I'm disappointed.
I began policing over thirty years ago, and I've never worn a gun, a Tazer, or body armour. Nevertheless I've been shot at once (by a total idiot who didn't know what he was doing, but it felt real at the time!), attacked with knives (again; by complete idiots) and had more hand-to-hand fights than I could possibly count. I'm not special, and I didn't complete my anticipated thirty year career in the police, so I could have had a lot more come my way. As I see it, though, I've had my fair share of face-to-face confrontations and 'rumbles'. I fancy that I know a little bit about risk.
The police officers I see at work these days are, on the whole, a fine lot. Sprinkled among them are - of course, I wouldn't be a curmudgeonly old fart otherwise - a small number of them who seem annoyingly immature and unprofessional and, of course - by virtue of statistical inevitability - a very few the sight of whom I can hardly bear. Almost every one of these folks, however, have something in common, and it's something which bothers me greatly.
Almost all of them seem to have an innate fear of the people they deal with. People taken into custody are regarded as dangerous barbarians, likely to let loose at any time, or successfully fumble for a concealed Uzi or vest of explosive. They are manhandled in a panicky sort of way rather than with calm precision or dignified professionalism. It's not that the officers mess up (they rarely do), but more that the climate of fear is all-pervading. I can't figure out why this should be; I haven't noticed the time when the public became so dangerous (it's only nine years since I arrested my last violent shoplifter - on my own, and three years since I last dealt with somebody who was stealing from the workplace - again, on my own). I observe police officers deferring responses to potentially risky incidents in order to allow time for backup to get there first; the idea that police officers get to such incidents as fast as possible to protect the public seems to be on the retreat.
The other day I spoke with an officer who expressed concern about even going out to the patrol car in the police yard, on the basis that someone with malicious intent might be lying in wait. We briefly discussed this matter and I (actually rather delicately) made my feelings known. This attitude is frankly ridiculous and verging on the paranoid. In Moncton (New Brunswick, 2014) and Mayerthorpe (Alberta, 2005) we had two wildly improbable incidents where police officers were effectively ambushed and tragically, obscenely, murdered. Those two incidents nine years apart did not change the nature of Canadian society, yet so often what I seem to hear from the police officers I work in support of is a fear-based approach to policing, an apparent need to expect such an attack at any time. What seems to be happening is that all risks are run through the filter of the highly improbable likelihood of another targeted shooting. It's an approach that stigmatizes the public in an officer's eyes and turns them into an enemy rather than a cooperative resource, and the reason for their professional existence in the first place.
In it's simplest form, my reasoning is that it's impossible to legislate or prepare for the lunatics, and maintain a policing-by-consent approach to law and order. If the police are going to follow the right-wing there's-a-lunatic/terrorist-around-every-corner-and-behind-every-door approach to policing, all patrol cars will eventually become tanks - that's the silly but illogical progression of that way of thinking.
When I joined the police, the expectation was that in extremis we would lay down our lives to save lives, to get in the way of harm in order to protect the public; to face danger when nobody else could. It was an understanding that we all had, a commitment that we all made, either in full awareness or with some naivety. When I mention that to the officers I know in the present day, their wide-eyed response is frequently this: "Woooow!".
That says it all, I'm afraid. The world really has changed, and now I have to grow old in the belief that if danger grows near