Domestic Policing on an International Stage

By May 5, 2016 No Comments

“Globalization and rapid advances in technology have contributed to the expansion and internationalization of organized crime activities; Canadians can easily fall victim to organized crime groups operating outside of our borders, making it a global problem that cannot be fought solely within our borders.” [1]

The Way it Was

There was a time when policing in Canada was almost exclusively domestic and quite territorial. City police “forces” were firmly entrenched within their jurisdictions, seldom leaving except perhaps to pick up a prisoner that had been arrested elsewhere, or for training opportunities within their own province or perhaps another, or on rare occasions within the U.S.A.

Although the provincial police forces – Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Surete du Quebec (SQ), as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
(RCMP), were the police of jurisdiction over many communities; massive parcels of geography; and provided additional support to municipal police
services on request, they generally only partnered with them in Joint Forces Operations (JFOs) during occasional drug and/or organized crime cases.

Certainly there was the occasional turf war between agencies – some no more than simple jealousies and others over jurisdiction or mandate conflicts.
However more significant apprehensions and mistrust developed when municipalities began to explore more affordable policing service delivery options through amalgamations or contracting policing responsibilities to the province. However, for the most part they all operated unimpeded in their own areas of jurisdiction and communicated as necessary.

Crimes were often more of a nuisance than a catastrophe. In most communities police responded to minor thefts, property damage, traffic collisions,
noise complaints, the odd brawl, occasional break and enters and, God-forbid, a very infrequent murder. Organized crime meant “the Mafia”; was normally only found in major cities and terrorism occurred in foreign lands.

Accordingly, policing costs did not cripple municipalities. Officers were underpaid, overworked and were all things to all people, but were largely
respected and appreciated by the communities they protected. Officers were not challenged by the 24/7 coverage of the news outlets of today, and had yet to experience the trends of in-car cameras, body-worn cameras or a society that carries camera-equipped mobile phones at the ready – most often hoping to catch an officer in a less than flattering situation.

Current Climate

The policing of today only slightly resembles that of that other place and time.

“…international terrorism and the growing threat posed by international organized crime raise the challenge for police of having to deal with global
issues while taking care of local crime concerns.”[2]

Yes, some of those more minor local crimes still exist today, but most modern police services don’t even respond to them anymore. Police have had to stop doing some of the things they once so proudly did. The “No call too small” mantra worked wonderfully at one time, but sadly is no longer an affordable luxury. Many police services won’t send an officer to a stolen car occurrence let alone a downed mail box or missing bicycle. The public must report such crimes through online systems or relay the information to police over the phone. More minor car crashes are regularly reported through collision reporting centres, and the officers don’t attend the collision scene. I’m not saying any of this modern approach is wrong, but the
self-reporting trend alone has negatively impacted the frequency of police interactions with the public.

Need for Change

Why is such change occurring? Because over the past several years, municipalities, provinces and states across North America have grown increasingly concerned about rising policing costs, at the same time they have faced little to no increase in local tax revenues. Frankly, in many cases it’s gone from a “do more with less” model to a “do everything with nothing” reality.

Some high court decisions have influenced a number of investigative and court presentation practices, accordingly increasing the time and human resources required to investigate crimes and prosecute those responsible. Combine that trend with the advent of new technology and rapidly developing scientific processes, and a significant piece of policing has forever changed.

Although much of this change is considered to be “progressive”, it comes with a cost. Increasing salaries as well as tremendous costs for such technology, encrypted radio networks, vehicles and fuel, have caused police and political leaders to closely examine how to get the best bang for their dwindling dollar, through a variety of service delivery model options.

With the solutions that technological tools often bring, come exploitations of that technology for criminal purposes. Criminal organizations and individuals discover methods to victimize others as quickly as law enforcement implements solutions for crime-fighting purposes.

“Crimes are becoming much more complex and global, including issues such as border security and the fight against terrorism, identity theft and cybercrime. Crimes in these areas are challenging traditional policing models and creating a need for more specialization and collaboration with other organizations.”[3]

New and demanding crimes are occurring, like cybercrime (through criminals that know no borders); child exploitation and internet bullying; as well as the radicalization of people in western societies into Islamic extremist groups – just to name a few. They are all resource intensive and costly to address, to say the least.

When I was in the organized crime investigation game twenty years ago, there were only five recognized organized crime groups operating in Canada. At that time, they had many individual entities within their overall structures, across the country. More recently, according to Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, “In 2013, 672 organized crime groups were reported in Canada.”[4]

The funding, resources and collaboration required to even put a dent in this, is beyond comprehension.

National and International Focus

The words “national security” never passed the lips of a city or provincial police officer in this country 20 years ago. Border sanctity was the role of federal agencies, and frankly wasn’t even a big concern except for the smuggling of illegal commodities. But the shifting terrorism paradigm has hugely impacted the role of domestic police services in Canada.

During the wars of the 20th century, our military fought an enemy on the other side of an ocean; largely wore a certain distinguishable uniform and were most often found across some known line or “over that hill”. They had guns, bayonets, grenades, landmines buried in fields and of course bombs that were dropped from airplanes – as did our soldiers. There was a  known cause for the conflict of the day and usually a definitive end in sight – if the enemy was destroyed or surrendered. That was then.

Then came the more modern-era wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, where generally our military and coalition forces didn’t always know if the local citizens they were protecting were working in concert with or supporting the enemy forces, and quite often – but not always, a large part of the enemy army was located in specific towns, cities and geographic locations, most often wearing various forms of civilian attire. Enemy attacks could come from over the hill, or from within the very community they were trying to bring safety and freedom to. Besides guns and missiles, local people and cars carried explosive devices, and IEDs were buried in the middle of main thoroughfares. Local and provincial police had little if any role to play in these conflicts here at home.

How the world has changed. What is war? Who is the enemy now? What do they look like? What weapons are they using? Where are they located? Why do they want to hurt us? None of us have concrete answers to many of these questions.

In 2015, Al Qaeda and ISIS-inspired attacks against civilians in the Western world – not the military, are occurring on this side of the ocean, right where Canadians and Americans work and live. The police have become the first line of defence to this aggression, not the military. The new enemy may be a born-in-Canada or U.S. young person, who we watched grow up in the house next door, or a fellow student or a colleague that we share coffee with every morning. They look like us, dress like us, were not recruited or conscripted in the traditional sense, but inspired through an unknown recruiter in a social media world.

The new enemy doesn’t write letters to loved ones while lying in a foxhole overseas and profess their desire to come home safely. They generally accept that they will die for the cause that they have bought into, killing innocent people, children and police officers – not soldiers, in the process.

They still often use guns and knives, but not always. The weapon of the day might be a suicide vest, a pressure-cooker filled with explosives and nails,
or a pipe bomb. The battlefield won’t be a muddy field surrounded with barbed-wire or an armed encampment, but might be soft-target like a movie
theatre, restaurant, sporting event or a shopping mall. The end-game of this war is not known or understood, except to bring death and destruction, causing people to live their daily lives in fear.

Despite all of this anarchy and numerous unknowns, we have to confidently rely on our intelligence, security and law enforcement to detect and eliminate the enemy, and to mitigate the threat – as our forces do very well in this country. Police services at all levels are keenly involved in intelligence gathering; surveillance; investigations; and perhaps preparing for an eventuality that may be the biggest call of their career.

Canadian police agencies are now joined at the hip and closely tied to their North American, European, Asian and Australian counterparts in sharing
intelligence information and lessons learned every minute of the day, but these are the same police resources that are dealing with the overwhelming
organized crime threat, the cyber-crime threat, human trafficking, the sexual exploitation of children; AND traffic enforcement; AND daily crime prevention and traffic safety programs; AND law enforcement calls for service in every town and city across the nation; AND, AND, AND. The sad reality is that something has to give on occasion.

As an example, following the tragic attacks against our military personnel and our Parliament Buildings by radicalized Canadians in the fall of 2014, the RCMP and CSIS were both unfairly criticized because theydidn’t have 24 hour surveillance on the perpetrators who through no fault of those agencies, had barely appeared on their radar prior to those horrific crimes. Shortly thereafter, the RCMP were forced to re-assign over 600 investigators from other federal investigations to conduct surveillance on other potential radicalized individuals. How many drug and organized crime investigations were pushed aside to meet these national security needs?

No Place for Silos

‘Local’ police can no longer do it all alone. This current environment requires a continuous spirit of cooperation between local, provincial and federal
police services, and agencies.

The increased focus on preventing crime and victimization, as opposed to responding, investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating, as well as alleviating the radicalization of citizens into extremist ideologies, requires them to work cooperatively with community
groups; educators; social service agencies; mental health professionals and the media to identify local issues and develop mitigating solutions on day to day matters. The international stage on which they now operate has increased the need for effective partnerships to unprecedented levels across nations, continents and oceans. I don’t believe we will ever see this trend wane.

No one agency has all of the expertise and resources to fight even one of these challenges alone. They are all paid for by the taxpayer and they owe it to that taxpayer to do it as competently and efficiently as possible. Any previous inclination some may have had towards operational independence must become a thing of the past.

As always, organizational leadership remains key in setting the positive example in building and maintaining constructive relationships and effective
partnerships, all in the best interest of the broader community base they serve.