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RCMP have a big public relations problem

(Daily News) – The top ranks of the RCMP appear to be losing the propaganda war.

For about 15 years Canada’s national police force has embarked on a herculean effort to portray itself in a positive light. Even rank and file officers have to be asking not only why it isn’t working, but why the opposite seems to be happening.

It was in 1995 that the Mounties started getting serious about their image. At that time they hired the Disney corporation to licence and market all trademarked Royal Canadian Mounted Police images.

While that deal with Disney ended 11 years ago and a foundation now controls the use of RCMP imagery, it was a move that made a good deal of sense in a world where propaganda can and is used with astonishing effectiveness.

Policing by its nature is only rarely a pleasant business. Finding lost children, aiding the elderly and other such niceties are but a fraction of the responsibilities of the RCMP and other police agencies.

The bulk of the work is dealing with drunks committing some crime or the other, domestic disputes (which also usually involve alcohol) and investigating property crimes.

That reality has not changed for decades, but what has changed is that police are now also caught in the digital age. Cameras are everywhere and we are now being let in on a dirty little secret about policing — sometimes cops have to fight dirty. It was observed by a retired officer in this city some years ago that police cannot be expected to fight by Marquess of Queensbury rules for boxing.

The ubiquity of the camera has exposed tactics that police have been using for years in their dealings with some pretty rough customers and for which they have not been accountable.

And we should make no mistake about just how rough some of those customers are. Some hit the streets with the very intention of assaulting police. Among bikers, it is a badge of honour to have assaulted a police officer.

Then there are the drunks. Any cop will agree: add alcohol and you have an instant idiot. And domestic disputes are notoriously difficult for police to settle and can go very wrong very fast.

We give police a lot of power to both enforce the law and protect themselves and the public.

Being prepared for these is important, but evidence is accumulating that too many — not all — RCMP officers are abusing the immense powers that we as a society grant them.

Now the question is: “Who watches the watchers?” That is traditionally done by the media, but the RCMP’s media relations policy has restricted the amount of information that police once provided. In most communities media and Mounties are now more like adversaries.

The public, which includes the media, believes — in the absence of any other information — that the RCMP media policy is based on manipulating its own image, or propaganda.

Whether that’s true or not, that is now the general perception and was cemented firmly in place mostly after the death of Robert Dziekanski.

Incidents like the shooting of Jeff Hughes in Nanaimo in October 2009 have also added to that perception. The police have still told the public nothing about that incident, again leading us to believe they are withholding information to protect their image.

Most people support the police; but most people also don’t want to be subject to being abused by them. The RCMP do a great job in many areas; in relating to the public, not so much.

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Categories: Broken Force.

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