Opinion Column

Disarming Vancouver police a foolish idea 0

Leo Knight Prime Time Crime columnist 24 hours (PHOTO SUBMITTED).

By Leo Knight, Law and Order, 24 hours Vancouver

Toronto police officer Const. James Forcillo (left) has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, an incident that has spurred debate over police and the use of force. (REUTERS)

Toronto police officer Const. James Forcillo (left) has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, an incident that has spurred debate over police and the use of force. (REUTERS)

A piece appeared in the Toronto Star recently suggesting that police should be, for the most part, disarmed. Instead, unarmed officers could call in specially trained armed teams if needed. Authored by professor and lawyer Peter Rosenthal, the article has sparked much discussion, even triggering a Facebook page called Disarm Toronto Police.

It wasn’t long before the media in Vancouver got on the bandwagon. I got several calls on Monday asking for comment on whether this idea had merit for the Vancouver Police Department.

Rosenthal’s article was based on a flawed premise.

“Overwhelmingly, the victims of police shootings are in an emotional crisis and have a weapon, usually a knife,” he wrote. “They are not ‘bad guys’; they are people who don't really want to hurt anyone.”

Well, that’s certainly true in some cases, such as when Sammy Adib Yatim was shot on a Toronto street car last summer. Part of the incident was captured by a citizen journalist, and no doubt this incident was a trigger for Rosenthal’s thinking.

But as is often the case with those who inhabit the rarefied air of academia, Rosenthal’s idea ignores the reality of what police come into contact with on a daily basis. It also exonerates the role of government in failing those with mental health issues and places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the police.

And that’s wrong.

The average police officer on patrol fields many calls during a shift. A large percentage of these are violent or potentially violent, ranging from a street fight to a domestic dispute. Any violent call can escalate from zero to 60 in a heartbeat. That’s a reality ignored by Rosenthal.

Other issues ignored by Rosenthal are gangs and guns. Monday night in downtown Vancouver, two men were shot in a targeted gang hit. If we expect police to fight gang violence, how is it reasonable to expect them to do it when their adversary is armed and they aren’t?

The handwringers and champagne socialists can wish for a different world and try to engineer society as they see it. The real world is much different. There are bad people who inhabit it. And too often those people have guns and are prepared to use them.

To disarm police and yet expect them to do their primary job — to protect the rest of us — is foolish in the extreme. Put yourself in the place of an officer stopping a car loaded with gang-bangers. Would you want to approach that situation without a gun?

The answer is that you wouldn’t choose to be in that position. For the police, it’s their job.

View Prof. Rosenthal's article here:

http://www.thestar.com/bigideas/experts/2014/02/27/disarm_most_police_officers_peter_rosenthals_big_ideas.html

Leo Knight is a former police officer, security expert and host of primetimecrime.com.

 

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