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Only a cop's cop may have the clout to fix the RCMP

There are two emerging views of the government's decision to name a so-called cop's cop as the new head of the country's troubled national police force. And one is decidedly more optimistic than the other.

The more gloomy perspective stems from the fact that new RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson is a product of the troubled organizational culture he is being asked to fix. And there seems to be no compelling evidence that he did much of anything to address the deep and systemic problems that have helped erode public confidence in the Mounties while a member of its senior management team.

In other words, he is part of the problem, not the solution.

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However, a more hopeful opinion of Commissioner Paulson's appointment goes something like this: just as only Richard Nixon could go to China, only a cop with loads of on-the-street experience can get the kind of buy-in from rank-and-file members needed to repair a sick and broken organization that more distrust every day.

Regardless of which viewpoint you subscribe to, there is no question that Commissioner Paulson has taken on one of the toughest jobs in the country. Beyond the public's loss of confidence in the iconic institution he now heads, he inherits a work force whose morale has never been lower.

Members have lost faith in management's ability to do much beyond preserving the status quo, which in turn has helped perpetuate the old boy's environment and circle-the-wagons mentality that has dragged the force down in the estimation of those it is expected to serve.

The new commissioner is well aware of the long list of problems he must address, new sexual harassment allegations being chief among them. How he deals with those explosive charges will offer an early indication of what type of leadership he intends to provide.

While the most serious of the harassment claims have been made by a member of the Mounties based in B.C., it seems implausible that the problem, if it exists, would be limited to those serving on the West Coast. Will the commissioner do anything to see if this is a nationwide problem? If he ignores that possibility, he will not be doing his job.

This could well be the perfect issue to hand over to a board of management recommended four years ago. The board was supposed to be comprised of eminent Canadians chosen for their independence, insight and expertise. This is precisely the kind of neutral body that could deliver a plan to deal with the sexual harassment issue in a serious and forceful way and allow the commissioner to say that he has no choice but to follow through on it.

A board of management is just one of many recommendations from a federal task force on the RCMP that has not been acted upon. The federal government deserves much of the blame for that, but so do the Mounties, who have done little to signal they are anxious for the reforms to be instituted.

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Commissioner Paulson should use his honeymoon period to bring the proposed measures to reality. It would go a long way to showing that he plans to do things differently and that improved transparency will be a big part of his administration's agenda.

If he is smart, the commissioner would also be advised to shine a bright, harsh light on operations in B.C. This branch of operations has done more to bring the Mounties' reputation into disrepute than any other. Why? What is it about the province? It can't simply be because the force has a bigger undertaking here. The number of troubling incidents that occur in B.C. is vastly disproportionate to the number of officers stationed here.

A corollary of that is the complete lack of faith the public has in the Mounties to discipline their own. The four officers involved in the tasering-related death of Robert Dziekanski, an event that represents one of the sorriest chapters in RCMP history, barely received a slap on the wrist for behaviour that an inquiry denounced in the harshest tones.

But that is just one example of the type of suspect judgment senior Mounties in B.C. have exhibited in recent years when it's come to disciplining officers for improper conduct. It is not, however, a problem specific to B.C. – it is one that exists across the country.

If Mr. Paulson is going to instill a sense of pride back into the RCMP, it will take more than the solemn pledges he offered at his first news conference. He may well have to tear down the force to build it back up.

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