The RCMP enjoys the approval of an overwhelming majority of Canadians, but the force’s reputation has suffered in two areas of the country hard-hit by police scandal.
Nationally, 84 per cent of 5,800 Canadians surveyed last year said they “have trust and confidence” in the force. But in British Columbia and the Yukon, that number drops to 73 and 69 per cent respectively.
Mounties in the two regions have been mired in long-running, high-profile scandals and new incidents in British Columbia have added to the bad press.
The results are worse for the force’s leaders. About half of those surveyed in B.C. and the Yukon say they believe the RCMP has “strong, reliable leaders.” Nationwide, the proportion is 69 per cent.
Respondents in the National Capital Region also had lower-than-average approval for the force.
Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and a former police officer, said the low opinion of the RCMP in those regions is no surprise.
“There’s been a series of events which I don’t think the RCMP responded well to, which they can’t compensate for by simply arranging for more musical rides,” Prof. Gordon said. “It clearly is reflecting a shift of some kind.”
Pollsters Harris-Decima conducted the survey last June for the force and the results were quietly posted online.
The RCMP has done yearly surveys of the public, its contract and policing partners, and “stakeholders” such as government departments and non-governmental organizations since 2003. The feedback helps shape management practices and business planning.
The 2010 survey asked respondents their responses to two new statements: “I have trust and confidence in the RCMP,” and, “The RCMP has strong, reliable leaders.”
The survey is believed to be accurate to within 1.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Corporal Annie Linteau, spokeswoman for the RCMP in B.C., was asked about the poorer results in the province, where the RCMP’s contract with the provincial government is up for renewal in 2012. She would say only that public trust is vital to public safety.
Around the time the survey was conducted early last summer, Thomas Braidwood, the head of B.C.’s inquiry into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski, had criticized the four Mounties who tasered the Polish immigrant with at Vancouver’s airport. Meanwhile, the daughter of Raymond Silverfox, a Yukon man who died in squalor while in an RCMP drunk tank in 2008, launched a lawsuit against the force for negligence.
Prof. Gordon suggested the force’s declining approval ratings in B.C. are due to problematic recruitment, retiring officers, and the high-profile incidents of misconduct like the Dziekanski case.
More recent events haven’t helped either, including enduring criticism of Commissioner William Elliott’s management skills, the Kelowna, B.C., officer caught on videotape kicking a suspect in the face last January, and the 11-year-old boy who was stunned by an RCMP taser last month.
Many of these incidents involved fresh graduates from training in Regina and were thrust into situations they were ill-equipped for, Prof. Gordon said. The increasing number of retiring officers compounds the problem.
“A lot of early learning involves learning at the feet of older, more experienced officers who passed on a heck of a lot of street knowledge,” he said. “None of that is available any more.”
Rick Parent, Prof. Gordon’s colleague at SFU and a former municipal police officer, also questioned the RCMP’s training practices because officers are taught at the depot in Regina, and not in the areas where they will eventually police.
“Your training is all done in a kind of generic test tube,” Prof. Parent said. “When you roll out to specific areas of the country … you have to meet [their]unique needs.”
Compared to the 2009 public survey, approval ratings for the RCMP’s professionalism and honesty remained about the same – 84 per cent compared with 79 per cent in 2010.
But while the force got a generally good response for the way officers prevent crime, the marks were poorer in 2010 than in 2009.
Nationwide, the poll showed declining approval ratings from the previous year’s survey for preventing youth crime (77 per cent in 2010, down from 83 per cent), organized crime (82 per cent from 88), and economic crime (77 per cent from 85.)
In terms of contributing to safer and healthier aboriginal communities, 74 per cent said the force did a good job in 2010, compared with 80 per cent the year before.
Editor's note: Professor Rob Gordon of Simon Fraser University is a former police officer, but was never with the RCMP. Incorrect information appeared on Tuesday in print and in an earlier online version of this story. This version has been corrected.
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