Crossing the line - The Orca

Crossing the line

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Jody Vance: It’s become obvious that police reform is needed – and must include more accountability.

Columbo. Cagney and Lacy. Hill Street Blues. Miami Vice. Hawaii 5-O. CHIPS.

People of a certain vintage might harken back to a time when police were put on a pedestal – the good guys. Huge swaths of society taught kids that if they got lost, look for uniforms.

Times have changed. In 2021, we face a revolt centred on law enforcement who behave in ways unbecoming of the uniform.

We’re long past the debate on whether the consequences are anywhere close to fitting the worst behaviour. Some might suggest that lack of consequence has led to calls to “defund.”

It’s in the USA! No. It’s only the RCMP! Also no.

It’s here.

Last Wednesday, a body washed up on Third Beach in Stanley Park. Two Vancouver Police officers were dispatched to the scene. Those two officers were subsequently recorded on camera by a passer-by, laughing and taking photos with the deceased.

Taking photos. With a corpse. Widespread disgust at the undeniable video evidence was visceral.

This is more than “conduct unbecoming an officer.” It would seem an easy low-bar definition of a fireable offence, but no. All too often, officers found to have committed misconduct are instead “reassigned,” and the incident(s) goes into a vacuum of internal investigation.

This is where we find the need for change. Because each instance of bad actors in uniform further feeds the polarizing call to defund.

It’s strange that this is happening concurrently with calls to increase powers to enforce rules being broken at anti-science rallies and public health order rulebreakers.

My Middle this week is pretty straightforward common sense.

We have reached a fork in the road: the good, hardworking and dedicated men and women in uniform must be honoured by punishing those whose bad behaviour stains the uniform. A move toward swift and firm accountability is a must.

Full disclosure: I have a family member who is decades into her service with the Vancouver Police Department. When I see the awful behaviour of some, my mind goes to her dedication, as monumental as her humility.

It’s in the name of incredible people like her, brave enough to don the uniform every day to ‘serve and protect’ that we must hold bad actors to swift and definitive repercussions.

Officers are not perfect, and of course must be treated as such. But when the conduct would clearly be a fireable offence in any other job, theirs should be the example; not the exception.

VPD officers caught on camera taking laughing photos with a dead body should not be an opportunity to “redeploy,” unless it’s to the unemployment line.

Our system needs updating with independent checks and balances. There should be an ombudsperson or citizen-led board with a judicial element. A completely neutral, untouchable, incorruptible, and preferably sworn-in group, with a vested interest in accountability. Police unions would need to be included, part of the process, and on board.

If you’re wondering why this incident, but not other past or ongoing issues, from sexual harassment to racial profiling, you’re right. To me, identifying the specific last straw is less important than deciding the buck stops here.

While the ‘code’ prevents hardworking officers from speaking, it must be addressed. Time to turn the tide toward what’s right, away from an archaic system that has left marginalized communities underserved and bad behaviour left unpunished.

There’s much work to be done to help support those dedicated to serve and protect. It must start with weeding out those who break society’s rules of ethics and hide behind a badge.

What I’d do for “just one more question, officer…” from Columbo.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.