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Policing Postmodern Canada

  • Christopher Murphy (a1)


This article describes current changes in long established policing structures, ideologies and operational practices and links them to changes in the economy and culture of governing and policing late modern societies like Canada. This transition from modern to postmodern policing is marked by the following core changes: (a) the restructuring and relocation of policing authority and responsibility, (b) the re-conceptualization of public policing, and (c) the rationalization and commodification of public and private policing services. These key shifts in policing structure and ideology suggest the declining importance of modern policing assumptions and the emergence of a distinctive postmodern model of public policing in Canada. The social and political implications of this policing transition for citizens, governments and governance are also discussed.

Cet article décrit les changements actuels apportés dans les structures, les idéologies et les pratiques policières établies depuis longtemps, en les reliant aux changements économiques et culturels dans l'art de gouverner et de policer les sociétés modernes avancées comme le Canada. Cette transition du moderne au postmoderne est marquée par les changements fondamentaux qui suivent: (a) la restructuration et la relocalisation de l'autorité et de la responsabilité policières, (b) la reconceptualisation de la police publique, et (c) la rationalisation et la marchandisation des services de police publics et privés. Ces changements radicaux dans la structure et l'idéologie policières suggèrent le déclin des postulats modernes de la fonction policière et l'émergence au Canada d'un modèle postmoderne de police publique distinct du précédent. L'auteur discute aussi des implications sociales et politiques de cette transition pour les citoyens, les gouvernements et l'art de gouverner.



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1. A Canadian, postmodern policing moment that bears further comment was the extraordinary purchase of the merchandising rights for the RCMP symbol or image for five million dollars a year by the Disney Corporation. Justified as a way of funding community policing programs threatened by budget cuts, a Disney spokesperson declared that ‘Disney was a logical fit, they are compatible with the image (clean, family) of the force.” Enchin, Harvey, “Nothing Goofy About RCMP DealThe [Toronto] Globe and Mail (29 June 1995) B14. The rich postmodern irony of an American multinational entertainment company buying an historic, Canadian national symbol to merchandise trinkets globally, speaks to various postmodern observations about cultural appropriation, the commodification of everything, the trivialization of historical and cultural tradition and the importance of symbol over substance (who wants the real thing?). The beaver is next!

2. Kelling, G., “Police and Communities: The Quiet Revolution” (Washington, D. C.: NIJ, 1988), Manning, P. K., Police Work (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977), Walker, S., A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1977).

3. O'Malley, P., “Policing, politics and postmodernity” (Address to the Centre of Criminology: University of Toronto, 1997) [unpublished]; Reiner, R., “Policing a Postmodern Society” (1992) 55 Modern Law Review 6; Scheptyki, J. W. E., ‘Transnational Policing and the Making of the Modern State” (1995) 35 British Journal of Criminology 613.

4. Harvey, D., The Condition of Postmodernity (London: Blackwell, 1989); Jameson, F., “Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (1984) 146 New Left Review 146; Smart, B., Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1993).

5. Foucault, M., “Governmentality” in Burchell, G., Gordon, C. and Miller, P. eds, The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) 55.

6. Tourrain, A., “The Waning Sociological Image of Social Life” (1984) 25:1–2International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

7. Robertson, R., “Mapping the Global Condition: Globalization as the Central Concept” (1990) 7:2–3Theory Culture and Society 247.

8. Reiner, supra note 3.

9. Lacey, N., “Government as Manager, Citizen as Consumer. The Case of the Criminal Justice Act” (1994) 57 Modern Law Review at 534–54.

10. Rose, N., Values of the Enterprise Culture in Heelas, P. & Morris, P., eds., Governing the Enterprising Self (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990).

11. Smart, B., “On the Disorder of Things: Sociology Postmodernity and the End of the Social” (1992) 24 Sociology 3.

12. Collinicos, A., Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique (Cambridge: Polity, 1990); Giddens, A., The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1990); Habermas, J., “Modernity vs Postmodernity” (1981) 22 New German Critique.

13. Reiner, supra note 3.

14. Johnston, L., The Return of Private Policing (London: Routledge, 1992).

15. Sheptychi, supra note 3.

16. Bayley, D. H. & Shearing, C., “The Future of Policing” (1996) 30 Law and Society Review 3.

17. O'Malley, supra note 3.

18. Ericson, R. & Haggerty, K., Policing the Risk Society (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

19. O'Malley, supra note 3.

20. Johnston, L., “Policing in Late Modern Societies” (Workshop on Evaluating Police Service Delivery, Montreal, 2–4 November 1994) [unpublished].

21. Sheptycki, supra note 4.

22. Brodeur, J.-P., “High Policing and Low Policing: Remarks About the Policing of Political Activities” (1983) 30 Social Problems 507.

23. Beare, M., Criminal Conspiracies: Organized Crime in the Global Village (Toronto: Nelson Canada, 1996).

24. Kraska, P. B. & Kappeler, V. E., “Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units” (1997) 44 Social Problems 1.

25. Finjmaut, C., “International Policing in Europe: Its Present Situation and Future” in Brodeur, J., ed., Comparisons in Policing: An International Perspective (Avebury, Vt: Ashgate, 1996) 115.

26. Marx, G. T., “Social Control Across Borders” in MacDonald, W. F., ed., Crime and Law Enforcement In The Global Village, (Cincinnati: ACJS Anderson Monograph Series, 1977) 23.

27. Reiner, supra note 3.

28. Brown, L. & Brown, C., An Unauthorized History of the RCMP (Toronto: Lewis & Samual, 1978).

29. Talbot, C. K., Jayewardene, C. H. S. & Julian, T., “Canada's Constables: The Historical Development of Policing in Canada” (Ottawa: Crimecare, 1985).

30. Declining federal government interest in playing a “leading role” in influencing national policing policy is reflected in its abandonment of its support for police research and innovative programming. In the last few years the Solicitor General's Department has eliminated its own police research and policy section, disbanded the police research unit and police journal at the Canadian Police College, drastically reduced funding for academic and applied police research, and eliminated yearly funding for university criminology centers. This lack of federal support coupled with the lack of police interest in research has left Canadian policing without any active academic or applied research agenda and marks a return to questionable dependency on American- and British-research based policing models and policies. This curious lack of government interest comes at a time when neo-conservative managerial and effetiveness research studies are flourishing in the U.S. and Britain.

31. Ericson, R., “The Division of Expert Knowledge in Policing and Security” (1994) 45 British Journal of Sociology 2; Ericson & Haggerty, supra note 18; Shearing, C., “Reinventing Policing: Policing As Governance” in Zuck, F. et al. , eds., Privatisierung Staatlicher Kontrolle: Betunde, Konzepte, Tendenzen (Baden Baden: Nomos Verglasgeselleschaft, 1994) 75; Scheptcyki, supra note 3.

32. Policing in Late Modern Societies, supra note 20; Kennedy, P., Preparing for the 21st Century (Toronto: Harper, 1993).

33. However, while some provincial initiatives suggest a desire to expand provincial control over local municipal policing, the radically conservative government of Ontario appears to be willing to abandon some of its provincial influence and responsibility in return for financial savings. They have phased out subsidies to rural and village policing, and now require that the full cost of Ontario Provincial Police services be paid by contract municipalities, and will limit “provincial” appointees on local police boards. So it appears that at least some provincial governments are willing to deregulate municipal policing in order to diminish their financial obligations.

34. Policing in Late Modern Societies, supra note 20.

35. Ibid.; Friedman, J., “Being in the World: Globalization and Localization” (1990) 7:2–3Theory, Culture and Society 311.

36. Murphy, C., “The Future of Non-Urban Policing: Modernization, Regionalization and Provincialization” (1991) 33: 3–4Canadian Journal of Criminology 333.

37. Report of the Regionalization Strategy Team: Policing British Columbia in the Year 2001 by Woods, G. & Rippon, T. (Victoria: Ministry of Solicitor General, 1995).

38. Reiner, supra note 3.

39. Friedenburg, E., Deference to Authority: The Case of Canada (New York: Sharpe, 1980); Grant, G., Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1965); Lipset, S., “Canada and the United States: A Comparative View” (1964) 1 Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 173.

40. Nevitte, N., The Decline of Deference: Canadian Value Change in Cross-national Perspective Toronto: Broadview, 1996).

41. Adams, M., Sex in the Snow: Canadian Social Values at the end of the Millennium (Toronto: Viking, 1997).

42. Nevitte, supra note 40.

43. Canadian Center for Justice Statistics, Police, Personnel and Expenditures in Canada 1995–96 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1997).

44. The following are some of the recent investigations into Canadian policing: Policing in British Columbia Commission of Inquity, Closing the Gap: Policing and the Community (Victoria: 1994) Dallaw KB 88 P783 v. 1; Ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec, Rapport de la Commission d'enquête chargée de faire enquête sur la Sûreté du Québec (Sainte-Foy, 1999); Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution, Commissioners' Report: Findings and Recommendations (Halifax: 1988); Manitoba Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal People, Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, of Manitoba, vol. 2 (Winnipeg, 1991); Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, Report of an Inquiry into Administration of Internal Investigations by the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force (Toronto: 1992); Bernardo Investigation Review (Canada), Bernardo Investigation Review: Report of Mr. Justice Archie Campbell (Toronto: 1996); Investigations of the murder convictions of Jean-Claude Morin and David Milgaard; Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy-Paul Morin (Ont.), Report (Toronto: Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, 1998); RCMP: British Columbia, Aboriginal Protest, Gustafen Lake (1996) [unpublished]; OPP, Ipperwash, Conviction of OPP officers (1997) [unpublished]; APEC Inquiry: Investigation Public Complaints Commission RCMP [ongoing].

45. Spitzer, S. & Scull, A., “Privatization and Capitalist Development: The Case of the Private Police” (1987) 37 Social Problems 80; The Return of Private Policing, supra note 14.

46. Reiner, supra note 3.

47. “Police services will force significant financial pressures in the coming years that make it prudent to examine the types and functions that should be provided and by whom to ensure effective and cost-efficient service.” “Framework for Discussion” (Toronto: Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, May 1997) at 33. “What functions should a police service provide? Which of these functions are core functions and which are ancillary functions? What functions should a police service not provide? If a police service does not provide certain functions, how should these functions be provided? What functions require the knowledge, skills and abilities of a highly trained professional police officer?” Ibid. at 35.

48. O'Malley, supra note 3.

49. Bayley & Shearing, supra note 16.

50. Ericson, R. & Baranek, P., The Ordering of Justice (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982).

51. Mastrofski, S., “Community Policing as Reform: A Cautionary Tale” in Green, S. & Mastrofski, S., eds., Community Policing as Rhetoric or Reality (New York: Praeger, 1988) 47.

52. Ericson, supra note 31; Ericson & Haggerty, supra note 18.

53. Shearing, supra note 31.

54. Featherstone, M., Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (London: Sage, 1990).

55. Ontario provincial police are also engaged in a special contract battle with municipal policing, as this recent news item indicates. “The Ontario Provincial Police have been ordered to stop feting municipal politicians with free meals and casino visits in a bid to win new policing contracts. At least one busload of municipal officials, politicans and members of the media was taken on what critics call a junket. But another was cancelled at the suggestion of government officials, Solicitor-General Bob Runciman said yesterday. An intense competition was developed as local governmetns debate whether to contract for police services with the OPP or maintian local police departments.” “Stop Schmoozing, OPP Told” The [Toronto] Globe and Mail (15 October 1998) 12.

56. Shearing, C. & Stenning, P., “From the Panopticom to Disney World: The Development of Discipline” in Doob, T. & Greenspan, E., eds., Perspectives in Criminal Law (Toronto: Canada Law Book, 1984) 335.

57. Government of Canada (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1998).

58. Garland, D., “The Limits of the Sovereign State: Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society” (1996) 36 The British Journal of Criminology 4 at 445–68.

59. Ibid. at p. 456.

60. In a recent feature article on private policing, Maclean's magazine described the current situation as follows: “Since then, community based policing programs have become the rage throughout Canada. In theory, these programs are meant to put more resources on the street. In practice, however police forces have actually reduced traditional services. In Toronto more than 60% of calls to police are handled by alternative response units. Complainants are told to come to police stations to describe their problems over the telephone because in many cases police will not make a house call. Toronto police have quietly implemented a policy under which their drug squad would no longer work past 9 pm., even though drug dealers are most active at night, the rationale, to save overtime and reduce the number of cases going to crowded courts. One result of the diminution of services is that police hesitate to lay charges and when they do Crown attorneys are often reluctant to prosecute…. As the police and prosecutors retrench, the private sector is forced to hire its own law enforcers….” Palango, P., “On the Mean Streets” (12 January 1998) Maclean's at 14.

61. Newark, S., “FIDO: A Dog with a Nasty Bite” (Summer, 1995) 32 Canadian Express 26.

62. Braiden, C., “From the Belly of the Whale” (Edmonton: Edmonton Police Department, 1992).

63. Ibid. Braiden suggests that screening out too many calls for service may be a bigger problem than responding to too many. In a recent study of their crime incident workload, out of the top ten requests for police response (1. Accidents, 2. Theft of Automobiles, 3. Theft over/under, 4. Mischief, 5. Break and Enters, 6. False Alarms, 7. Lost and Found, 8. Suspicious persons, 9. Assaults, and 10. Shoplifting), Edmonton responds with a patrol car to only two.

64. Bayley, D., Police For The Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

65. Ericson & Haggerty, supra note 18.

66. Shearing, supra note 31.

67. Scheptycki, supra note 3; Garland, supra note 58; Reiner, supra note 3; Bayley & Shearing, supra note 16.

68. Ericson & Haggerty, supra note 19.

69. Bayley & Shearing, supra note 16.

* My thanks to Professor Richard Ericson, Green College, University of British Columbia; Professor Richard Apostle, Dalhousie University; and Dr. J. G. Woods, Pender Island, British Columbia, for their thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this research essay. Improvements to the draft reflect their contributions, lack of improvement reflect my own.

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Policing Postmodern Canada

  • Christopher Murphy (a1)


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