It ain’t easy be­ing blue

Winnipeg of­fi­cer sides with his fel­low cops in ex­am­in­ing is­sues fac­ing to­day’s po­lice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Kevin Walby

PUB­LIC po­lice of­fi­cers have a tough job. This is Winnipeg po­lice of­fi­cer Robert Chris­mas’s un­sur­pris­ing con­tention in a new book that largely defends the work done by Canada’s men in blue. How­ever, Cana­dian Polic­ing in the 21st Cen­tury does not have much to do with Cana­dian polic­ing in a broad sense. There is not a lot on the Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice, for in­stance. It is not a sys­tem­atic study of mu­nic­i­pal or pro­vin­cial polic­ing prac­tices across Canada. What Chris­mas does give the reader are at­ten­tion­grab­bing re­flec­tions on al­most 30 years of serv­ing in nu­mer­ous high-rank­ing po­si­tions with the Winnipeg Po­lice Ser­vice. Chris­mas, who is do­ing his PhD in peace and con­flict stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Manitoba, ad­dresses sev­eral topics us­ing ex­am­ples from Winnipeg. The first chap­ter of­fers a cur­sory his­tory of polic­ing. The next chap­ters as­sess the chang­ing roles of pub­lic po­lice and the in­creas­ing costs of crime. Chris­mas then ex­am­ines how tech­nol­ogy has al­tered polic­ing, and how de­mo­graphic shifts have trans­formed the com­po­si­tion of po­lice forces. He pro­vides chap­ters on po­lice train­ing and ac­count­abil­ity, Gen­er­a­tion X and Y po­lice of­fi­cers, and po­lice re­la­tions with First Na­tions Peo­ples. His prose is clear. De­spite the book be­ing pub­lished by an aca­demic press, it does not em­ploy an overly aca­demic style of ar­gu­men­ta­tion. The book ap­pears to be aimed at mul­ti­ple au­di­ences — schol­ars, po­lice, the pub­lic in Winnipeg — but does not quite pull it off. This is be­cause, through­out the book, Chris­mas’s mes­sage moves in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Di­verse nar­ra­tives some­times ap­pear con­tra­dic­tory. For in­stance, Chris­mas makes claims such as “sen­tenc­ing peo­ple to longer prison sen­tences with­out ef­fec­tively ad­dress­ing the root causes of the prob­lems that put them in prison en­sures that the cost of the sys­tem will soar up­ward.” This sen­ti­ment is sug­ges­tive of a pro­fes­sional who knows tougher polic­ing does not help to deal with crime and poverty. But then Chris­mas shifts gears and makes stark state­ments in a heroic tenor, such as “the evo­lu­tion from the use of man­ual type­writ­ers (when writ­ing oc­cur­rence re­ports) to to­day’s glob­ally con­nected dig­i­tal world does not re­de­fine the age­less fight be­tween good and evil — it only changes the weapons and the bat­tle­ground.” This makes it sound as if po­lice are on the side of good, while all peo­ple ac­cused of and caught break­ing the law are on the side of evil. Such ag­gres­sive lan­guage may also un­der­mine Chris­mas’s aim to per­suade read­ers that po­lice have ad­dressed dis­or­der in their own ranks. Chris­mas ar­gues all of the fol­low­ing: that abu­sive prac­tices such as “starlight tours” have ended; that po­lice cor­rup­tion ex­ists only in movies and on tele­vi­sion; that acts of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the force have ended or are “iso­lated in­ci­dents”; and that there is no racial pro­fil­ing by po­lice to­day, only crim­i­nal pro­fil­ing. Should we take Chris­mas’s word for it? Chris­mas cer­tainly sub­stan­ti­ates his as­ser­tion that polic­ing is a phys­i­cally stren­u­ous and men­tally stress­ful job. No doubt the heroic and so­cial work as­pects of polic­ing that he shares from his ex­pe­ri­ences are true and are ex­am­ples of what he calls “po­lice com­pas­sion.” The prob­lem is how vir­tu­ous po­lice come out look­ing. The book casts po­lice pre­dom­i­nantly in a pos­i­tive light, mak­ing them look like they are vic­tims of forces be­yond their con­trol: crim­i­nals, politi­cians, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, me­dia, Manitoba’s Law En­force­ment Re­view Agency, com­mis­sions of in­quiry, and bu­reau­cracy. There is not much ac­knowl­edge­ment that, de­spite the good that po­lice may do, many peo­ple le­git­i­mately fear po­lice pro­fil­ing and vi­o­lence. A 2007 re­port by the Manitoba Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion in­cluded ac­counts of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse to­ward abo­rig­i­nal and im­mi­grant women and men by po­lice in Winnipeg. Chris­mas does not cite this re­port. Now, such a re­port does not tell the whole story of polic­ing, ei­ther. But it di­min­ishes the cred­i­bil­ity of Chris­mas’s con­tri­bu­tion when data run­ning so con­trary to his heroic nar­ra­tive are ab­sent as a ref­er­ence and source. Given the de­tailed ac­count of lo­cal po­lice work that Chris­mas pro­vides, Win­nipeg­gers might wish to grab a copy and pass their own judg­ment. Kevin Walby is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nal jus­tice at the Univer­sity

of Winnipeg.


Cana­dian Polic­ing in the 21st Cen­tury A Front­line Of­fi­cer on Chal­lenges and

Changes By Robert Chris­mas McGill-Queen’s Univer­sity Press, 304 pages, $40

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