By ROMAIN PITT
One of the reasons the majority of the civilized world do not support capital punishment is that most people do not believe it to be a deterrent to murder. People appreciate that conduct is determined less by the consequence of having been found at fault than by self-restraint inculcated by training, by example and by education.
Very few people believe anymore in corporal punishment for minors. There is a modern consensus that young people must be raised to appreciate the value of good behaviour for its own sake.
In most areas of life including the all-consuming pursuit of business we appreciate the importance of preparation as a method of prevention. The most successful business people retain lawyers to prevent them from getting into difficulties rather than seeking help when they need to get out of trouble.
There are certain positions for which we recognize the need for age criteria. Teenagers may be as bright as or brighter than adults, but we do not place them in certain positions simply because they are not old enough to possess the requisite judgment. Judges are rarely appointed before they are 45. Americans, for example, are not eligible to hold the office of President before age 40. Chief Executives of major corporations are generally over 40.
The point is that our experience has taught us that maturity is often a valuable, indeed a necessary, qualification to hold certain offices.
Most conventional professions require years of study as a condition for entry, not only because we believe that certain skills are necessary, but also because we believe that the practice of such a profession requires the kind of judgment and the sense of responsibility that come only from years of study in the appropriate environment. Indeed even after the academic standards are met a period of internship or articling is often required before the license to practice is issued. We recognize that in the practice of those professions enormous power is exercised, and that such power must be exercised ethically and responsibly.
Notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, we see the policeman as someone whose job requirement is essentially that of dealing with thugs, and therefore we overemphasize his physical qualifications, like youth and physical fitness. With no criminal record a White young man of 19 with a grade 11 or12 education has no difficulty in landing a police job. We basically fail to appreciate the power that a badge and gun convey along with the right to arrest and to bring charges against a fellow citizen.
We neglect to appreciate as Jeff Goodal suggested in his submissions to the G20 Inquiry that bullies, psychopaths and sadists are likely attracted to police work in the same way that “pedophiles are attracted to school yards and youth groups”.
People who have suffered either indirectly or directly at the hands of police seem to believe that if police were punished in a manner consistent with the seriousness of their crimes, such punishment will be a deterrent to future criminal behaviour. With due respect, the argument that punishment should fit the crime, though sound and should therefore be persuasive, has very little to do with deterrence. Strangely, we recognize this with respect to crime in general because of extensive research, but once the conversation turns to police, we fall back on the reliance on punishment.
The world is a global village (incidentally because of technology, and not because of so-called globalization). We have solid evidence of different outcomes in the few jurisdictions in which police education is truly professional. With such education and careful recruiting much of the craziness we see in policing in North America can be eliminated. I know there are many who would devalue education in this context with the assertion that many horrible people are well educated. Frankly, many of those people confuse possibility with the laws of probability.
Victims of police crime and errors of judgment are not made whole by punishment of the offending police officers. It should be no satisfaction to you that the police officer who unnecessarily killed or hurt the young man you love has been brought to justice. What we want is prevention.
It is not necessary to have within our police force men who would just as easily kill us as protect us.
Romain Pitt is a retired superior court judge, a graduate in economics from the University of Toronto, and a 2015 University College Alumni of Influence.