Police public appearance

This bothers me. The right way to criticize something is to make a positive suggestion for improvement. I’ll try to do this when I recap the post at the end.

Toronto has a murder solution rate of under fifty percent.

Police visibility in my, ordinary, neighbourhood is less than ideal.

I pretend I’m doing a sort of verbal Rorschach inkblot test and ask my victim to say the first thing that comes to mind immediately after they understand what I said. Then I say, visible police presence. I used to get these answers:

  • Speed trap
  • Duty cop at construction, wearing an orange vest
  • two cruisers at the back of a plaza after hours, driver’s door-to-door

Jokers would add donut shop (and other silly suggestions) but would admit under the slightest questioning that they didn’t really see local police there much.

Speed traps are run (for the most part) by a Toronto-wide team. That’s all they ever do. They are usually not your local police from your local division. They are not bad people; I’ve spoken with many of them and mostly the speed traps are set up in areas where speeding is a hazard, generally to pedestrians, or in blind situations. Generally the motorists are doing well over the local speed limit. It seems that the motorist is kept there for awhile; I think this is deliberate, to impress locals that the speed limit is in fact being enforced.

If you see a speed trap in an unusual location, that is probably a local police officer responding to a specific speeding complaint.

It’s hard to complain about this particular police activity when you see it as a big picture.

Police at construction sites is now a public relations issue. The amount paid per hour was revealed in newspapers and is resented by those who earn less. While sometimes the officer’s presence does not appear to be that necessary, at other times it is crucial that traffic be temporarily stopped or rerouted due to equipment being moved or holes being opened or covered. It is a judgement call that varies by site, and sometimes by day or hour.

Cruisers at the back of mall parking lots confuse me. I am not sure that we would be better off with these vehicles moving about in the neighbourhood. Still, it is difficult to claim the location is strategic when the mall in question is closed and has no (public) record of after-hours break-ins.

It is fairly easy for you to guess what my recommendations would be for the items covered so far.

Today, when I pretend I’m doing a sort of verbal Rorschach inkblot test and ask my victim to say the first thing that comes to mind immediately after they understand what I said, and then say, visible police presence, I get these answers:

  • G20
  • Speed trap
  • Duty cop at construction

Nobody wants to mention the parked cruisers they pass coming home by the plaza.

I promised a positive suggestion for improvement at the beginning, and I will try to produce it here.

Speed Traps.

  • Educate the public a little more about safety
  • Avoid traps that are not in speed-risk areas.

I mention the latter because I live across from a busy school, and around the corner from another one. If you are going to put out speed traps here, do it while students are coming and going. Putting a speed trap on Bloor Street at 6:00 p.m. where the road is wide, visibility excellent, pedestrians limited to the bus stop, and the road slopes downhill – seems a little bit unfair. At a minimum, raise the threshold for tickets in areas where risk at moderate speed is pretty much non-existent.

Paid duty at construction

  • Do this where the officer contributes to public safety
  • Don’t do this if a pylon could do the job.

Parking lot cruisers in conversation

  • Recognize that it looks odd
  • Do this if it really is active police business
  • Don’t do this if there is a better way to serve and protect


  • Full-press public relations campaign is required.

The public is not going to forget. Images of skull stitches and broken arms are not going to go away. Statements of gang rape threats are not going to be silenced. Removed name tags are not seen as accidents. Failure to recognize inappropriate use of force is the worst possible publicity for a public service, particularly one which we all depend on to enforce public order.

That said, I am aware of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Philip Zimbardo wrote a book on it entitled, The Lucifer Effect. He was also asked to comment on the Abu Grhaib atrocities. His regret for his experiment is palpable, and his conclusions on these and other experiments are clear:

It is not a few bad apples. It is a bad barrel.

This leads to my next recommendations re the G20.

  • Full public apology is required
  • Some publicly visible accountability at leadership level is required.

The alternative is to leave this festering sore on our public view of a most key, perhaps the most key, public service we have: our police force.

We could also use more detective work. In solving GTA murders. In identifying perpetrators at the G20. On all sides.

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