COLUMN: Courting disaster with city police force

Vancouver’s history should serve as a warning

To claim that the RCMP is a perfect instrument of law and order is stretching a point.

While I salute the brave men and women who wear the uniform and continue to serve the public in many ways – often in little kindnesses known only to a grateful few – there are blots in the RCMP copybook, recent and historic, such selflessness can’t wash away.

And yet, for all its apparent flaws, the federal force strives to maintain a standard for its officers, and is – however imperfectly – subject to oversight and accountability.

I fear the same could not necessarily be said of a city police force rushed into existence at the whim of a few.

Mayor Doug McCallum is courting disaster by taking the backward step of re-instituting a local police force (Surrey already had one once, from 1887 to 1951, which struggled to keep pace with changing times).

To measure up to what the RCMP has provided Surrey since then will likely be a logistical nightmare.

But I also wonder what checks and balances are proposed for a new, hastily-recruited organization that will, inevitably, be tempted to accept also-rans and ‘mall cops’ to make up numbers of desperately needed ‘feet on the ground.’

What a boon for organized crime, which has, historically, taken advantage of patchworks of localized jurisdictions and police commissions hamstrung by political pressures – as well as officers ambitious or world-weary enough to be lured by the chance to feather their own nests in return for hushing this, ignoring that.

To a city lately plagued by gangs and drive-by shootings, Peter German’s recent report on money laundering in B.C. offers a clear warning that corruption, on a municipal level, has been – to this point, at least – virtually unexplored territory for investigators.

And anyone who thinks corruption can’t taint a police force in polite, law-abiding Greater Vancouver should look up the story of Walter Mulligan, Vancouver’s police chief in the late 1940s and early 1950s, who established a lucrative sideline for his officers willing to shake down bootleggers, gamblers and other criminals for regular payoffs.

Although Mulligan fled to the U.S. one step ahead of a Royal Commission in 1955 (a senior officer committed suicide and another attempted it to avoid testifying), an attorney general’s report claimed there was not enough evidence to prosecute him and no one tried – even when he returned to B.C. some seven years later and lived out the rest of his life in quiet retirement.

Shocking?

To the naive, maybe.

But that’s the kind of justice that can be expected when self-serving political interests take precedence over law and order.

Alex Browne is a reporter with the Peace Arch News.

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