"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Police – civilians or not?

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A recent article (and some questions from friends about civilian/military differences) got me thinking again about the new trend to refer to police as non-civilians.

There is increasing use of the term ‘civilian’ to describe those who are not police. I do not believe this is an accurate use of the term, which traditionally only described the difference between civilians and soldiers. I do note the courts frequently use civilian to describe non-police, which is unfortunate.

Under the law of war, a civilian is defined as a person who is not a member of a national armed force, a non-combatant. This is the category police fall into, as they are not constituted as a fighting force. They may be armed, but police forces are not, by law, a fighting force (at least in Canada).

What distinguishes soldiers from civilians is their unlimited liability to serve, which includes the inability to refuse a lawful command, even if that command will result in their death. The police do not operate under an unlimited liability to serve, and also have the benefit of workplace safety legislation and the ability to refuse to undertake excessively hazardous duty. There is no military occupational health and safety code. I was interested to see that the report from the Mayerthorpe murders of 4 RCMP officers that recommended ballistic plates in their vests was written by an occupational health and safety officer (as these were classed as ‘workplace deaths’).

Soldiers in war apply overwhelming force to achieve the mission, but by law police operate within reasonable force guidelines and use force only as a last resort. This is not to imply the job of the police officer is risk-free, only that it is not correct to distinguish them from the populace as non-civilians. Police follow an honourable path in their vocation, but it is properly the vocation of a civilian.

Sir Robert Peel’s principles of policing included the concept that, the police are the public and the public are the police. A police force is formed of civilians, who have undertaken the job that is incumbent upon all citizens, which is the maintenance of good order. A police force that stops thinking of itself as a citizen police force begins to perceive the unsworn public as different.

This trend to consider police as non-civilians is perhaps a symptom of the general militarization of police forces that seems to be taking place in North America. I find this trend disturbing, as it further distances our civilian police force from the civilian population they protect. As a case in point, I noted that Edmonton forensic unit officers are wearing low visibility crests on their field uniform. It is true they look cool, but the point of such crests is low visibility in tactical situations, like urban combat. Perhaps the special weapons officers could make a case, but surely the prime role of most police officer’s uniforms is to let them be seen by their fellow citizens.

I much prefer the sworn/unsworn distinction – police are those civilians who have sworn an oath to serve. The remainder, unsworn civilians, serve because that is the obligation of citizenship.

“Peel’s” Nine Principles (from http://www.nwpolice.org/peel.html)

1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it


Written by sameo416

November 4, 2011 at 2:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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