taking the community out of community policing

No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.
– General George S. Patton

On August 10, 2012, Foothills Municipal District peace officer Rod Lazenby was beaten to death during the lawful execution of his duty on an acreage near the hamlet of Priddis, about fifty miles from my home. A 35 year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Lazenby retired from the RCMP in 2006 and for the  last three years, worked as a community peace officer where he often dealt with animal complaints.  Last Friday, Lazenby attended the home of dog breeder Trevor Kloschinsky regarding a complaint about the latter’s thirty-plus Australian Cattle Dogs, and in a bizarre series of events, Kloschinsky (allegedly) ambushed and severely assaulted Lazenby, loaded the injured officer into his own patrol car and drove him to the nearest Calgary Police Service office where he directed a CPS officer to arrest Lazenby for trying to steal his dogs. Lazenby was rushed to hospital with life threatening injuries and pronounced dead upon arrival. Kloschinsky has since been charged with first degree murder.

Recognizing that a peace officer had been killed in the line of duty, Calgary Police Service lowered their flags to Half-mast at all their districts. Local fire departments followed suit.

Not so the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The flags at the Duncan Building (RCMP Southern Alberta District Headquarters) in Calgary, as well as several RCMP detachments that actually operate within the Foothills MD remained staunchly upright this past week.

The reason?

According to RCMP provincial spokesperson Sgt. Patricia Neely, “because he wasn’t a serving member, we have no say on that…. That’s a decision made for the RCMP by the Alberta premier’s office. Besides,” she added, “ we have thousands and thousand of former members—our flags would always be lowered.”

Is that what’s known as thinking on one’s feet?

Because we aren’t talking about all former members of the RCMP (of which I am one), we are talking about Rod Lazenby, a retired member—with ten more years of service than the current commissioner, I might add—who was killed in the line of duty while working for a law enforcement agency that partners directly with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

As a municipal police force, operating out of a municipal building, Calgary Police Service has the luxury of making its own decisions regarding Half-masting in the wake of a peace officer’s death. As a federal organization, however, wherein the national flag is affixed to a federal building, the RCMP takes its directive from the Department of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, and in the case of a non-federal peace officer such as Lazenby (who was granted peace officer status through the Alberta Solicitor General), the Alberta premier’s office must, on behalf of the RCMP, seek special dispensation to Half-mast the national flag at any Alberta RCMP detachment. The premier’s office obviously followed up with this, because the Department of Canadian Heritage recently posted their decision to allow all federal buildings within the Town of High River (population 12, 920 – how many can there be?), on August 24, 2012, the date of Lazenby’s memorial service.

Not only does this directive exclude Southern Alberta District Headquarters in Calgary, it prevents a handful of other RCMP detachments that actually partner with the Foothills Municipal District community peace officers from Half-masting their flag at any time, before or after the service.

This ridiculous chain of command through which the premier’s office in Edmonton must petition Ottawa on behalf of a federal law enforcement agency that is nearly four thousand kilometers away not only by-passes the interests of local RCMP Detachment Commanders operating within the physical boundaries of the Foothills Municipal District, it is symptomatic of the rusty federalism and disintegrating internal mechanics that plague the RCMP today. Deliberately handcuffing local and regional police agencies with bureaucratic inter-agency red tape not only strips RCMP Detachment Commanders of their right to make timely decisions regarding sensitive local community issues, it prevents members of the Force, regardless of rank, from publicly articulating what they intuitively know is wrong, to wit:

I’m not allowed to make opinions on policies.”
-Inspector Joe McGough, Commander, Rural RCMP Southern Alberta District.

And after reading the way in which RCMP Commissioner Paulson blasted a senior, front-line RCMP officer for actually having an opinion earlier this week, I can’t say I’m surprised. Rank and file members of the RCMP are deemed trustworthy enough to carry a sidearm and make intelligent decisions regarding the deprivation of personal liberty, but when they wish to implement an ethical, timely and appropriate public response to a tragedy within their own communities, they are straight-jacketed by Ottawa.

Talk about taking the “community” out of “community policing.”

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

5 thoughts on “taking the community out of community policing

  1. Helena says:

    I wonder how long it will take for things to change – if at all.

  2. mhajames says:

    Here, here! Funny how I was checking the Department of Canadian Heritage site for a half mast notification for this fallen officer. Common sense has long since left the building. I am not confident things will change any time soon.

  3. devonloch says:

    Police Officer – Peace Officer, a rose by an any other name!!!! Red Tape gone mad. How sad that when a man dies in this way we cannot, as a community, express our distress nor share the sorrow of his family by something as simple as lowering our national flag.

  4. Frieda Schilling says:

    Submitted on 2012/11/24 at 4:40 pm

    Ingrid, as a citizen, I have no idea of the chain of command in a community where the RCMP is the operating police force. Who is in charge and what is his rank? What are the duties of a small municipal police office? How much supervision does such an office receive? Are there yearly audits of the activities?

  5. Ingrid Baier says:

    The rank of an RCMP detachment commander would depend upon the size of the detachment (number of people being supervised), which in turn, is based upon the population of the area being policed. The RCMP serves about 200 isolated postings across the country—most of them in the far north—and some of the smallest are fly-in communities where the nearest town is hours away and serving RCMP members order a year’s worth of groceries at a time.
    Generally speaking, the smaller the detachment, the lower the rank. The detachment commander in High River, for example, is a Staff Sergeant (a non-commissioned officer), while in a large municipal RCMP detachment such as Surrey, the officer in charge is a Superintendent (a relatively high ranking commissioned officer).
    The duties of any RCMP detachment are the same as those in a municipal police force (which is not the same thing as a municipal by-law office), except in smaller communities, RCMP officers typically operate using fewer resources and significantly decreased manpower, particularly in rural areas where small populations can be spread over huge geographical areas. Members of the RCMP enforce federal (eg, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Criminal Code of Canada), provincial (eg, Traffic Safety Act) and, in some cases, municipal (eg, by-laws) statutes, investigate breaches thereof, keep the peace, and protect the public and property. Outside resources, including specialty units (eg, Forensic Identification, Police Dog Services, Emergency Response Team), service multiple jurisdictions in rural areas.
    In addition to road supervisors (to whom first responders typically report), and detachment commanders (who are accountable for the entire detachment) there are various levels of accountability embedded into the system, including community police committees, district managers, and the public complaints commission. Because the RCMP is a national force that evolved as a paramilitary organization, the rank structure is both hierarchical and Canada-wide, (culminating with the commissioner in Ottawa), and the unique overlap of municipal, provincial, and federal stakeholders has unique jurisdictional implications for decision making within the RCMP.
    Detachment audits of investigations, exhibits (eg, seized property,physical evidence), and physical security are all conducted on a regular basis.
    I hope this helps!

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