The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2004)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Dennis Cooley

Dr. Dennis Cooley is the Executive Director of the Law Commission of Canada and the editor of the forthcoming book this summary describes. He may be contacted at (613) 946-8976 .

Throughout the western world, the demand for security has altered the urban landscape. In Canada we have seen a rise in the number of ‘gated communities’ – residential communities built behind security fences – and in the United States gated communities have metastasized into private cities. ‘Mass private property’ turns what would otherwise be considered public space, ordinarily policed by public police, into private property governed by private security. Business associations are hiring security companies to patrol public streets in downtown shopping districts. Private security companies regularly patrol low-income housing complexes in cities across Canada. A new network of control and governance allows private corporations to fortify their territories and produce their own private order maintenance systems.

The emergence of fortified communities suggests that a gap exists between expectations of security and the services that the public police can provide. They call into question some fundamental assumptions of our society: if residents of a gated community or members of a downtown business association pay for their own policing services rather than relying on the public police, whose law is being enforced? If some businesses and communities pay for their own service, should they be subject to the same level of taxation as those who rely on the public police? Are principles of democratic accountability eroded as more and more policing is undertaken by private security organizations? The transformation in how policing services are delivered will have serious implications for how Canadians interact with one another in their communities.

Re-imagining Policing in Canada explores the consequences that the privatization of security has had, and will have, on policing in Canada. The perception that there is an increasing need for security, the response of the public and private sector to this demand for security and the impact of such transformations on the delivery of policing activities have created tensions for law and public policy. If policing is less-and-less a public responsibility, what are the implications for issues of fundamental justice?

It is customarily thought that police organizations are answerable to the law, they aspire to impartiality, and they work within a culture of independence. From a market perspective, private security agencies are answerable to their employer, they are not working with a similar imperative of impartiality, and they are not independent. But what happens when then there is a clash of interests between those who are in charge of securing public and private space and those who live and work in those spaces? Are the current legal theories supporting a public and private distinction meaningful? What do these theories obscure? Can we develop different conceptual tools that better reflect the evolution of policing?

The chapters in Re-imagining Policing in Canada were originally prepared for the Law Commission of Canada as background research for its project on public and private policing. The Law Commission of Canada is an independent federal law reform agency that advises Parliament on how to improve and modernize Canadian laws. The Commission seeks to engage Canadians in the renewal of the law to ensure that it is relevant, responsive, equally accessible to all, and just. The Commission is interested in exploring how law has responded to Canadians’ changing expectations for security. The way in which our values may have been transformed by the intermingling of public and private actors in the field of security is an ideal focus for a study of changing social relationships.

Re-imagining Policing in Canada explores different aspects of networked policing. A chapter by Joe Hermer, Michael Kempa, Clifford Shearing, Philip Stenning and Jennifer Wood acknowledges that shifts in the ideological, institutional, and practical character of policing have taken place over the past four decades and argue that legal reforms are necessary. Indeed, if policing is to reflect core democratic values, the authors argue, it must be fair, equitable and just, in addition to being inclusive of all members of the community in both its processes and benefits.

Law plays a critical role in structuring policing arrangements. The federal government is the sole authority on matters of criminal law and procedure, and the responsibility for regulating non-state policing agencies as well as various activities of property owners and businesses relevant to policing lies with the provinces. But at a more general level, the conception of policing embodied in both provincial and federal statues is limited. The activities of law enforcement and crime prevention are treated almost exclusively as outputs produced by police forces and police services. This ‘atomized’ view of policing creates considerable uncertainty about the powers and responsibilities of state versus non-state policing authorities.

Hermer and his colleagues maintain that because the agencies engaged in policing are not isolated from one another in their operations or in their impacts, reform must address networks of policing as coherent wholes. The parameters of the debate over law reform must be extended to address how the multiplicity of state and non-state resources that are currently engaged in policing can be harnessed to provide the most effective and acceptable policing for communities, whether at the local, regional, national, or international level. They suggest policing boards as a radical but realistic reform option. A policing board would have broad legal and “market” authority to hold all agencies that are involved in the process of policing to account. This would include the state police as well as non-state bodies. Moreover, the Board would be given authority to inquire into the conduct of any policing agency – including but not limited to the state police – and thereby hold that agency publicly accountable for its policing practices and apply disciplinary measures when appropriate.

The three chapters on policing urban centres in Canada provide a social context for many of the ideas that are presented by Hermer and his colleagues. For example, Michael Mopas examines the creation of distinct communities in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As he notes, the creation of distinct communities has political implications as merchants, property-owners, residents and others who use the space struggle to define the community in their image. Mopas illustrates how “community policing” is a reflection of how the community is defined. In the Downtown Eastside, through the use of different policing strategies, a number of sub-areas or neighbourhoods have been able to separate themselves and remain distinct from the larger community.

Laura Huey, Richard Ericson and Kevin Haggerty’s chapter also examines urban Vancouver to describe the fusion between amusement and consumption that is increasingly present in urban design and to explore the impact of this trend on approaches to order and security. Urban entertainment destinations are now commonplace in Canada. They are high consumption areas that utilize forms of entertainment as a means of retailing goods and services. Attempts to create such sites of consumption and pleasure may be compromised by the pre-existence of various forms of ’urban blight’ that are commonly associated with the inner city. Business improvement associations in many Canadian cities have turned to private security firms to respond to any number of “quality of life” issues such as panhandling, graffiti, squeegee kids and street youth that plague retailers and consumers.

Huey, Ericson and Haggerty examine the impact and implications of these programs in the context of the Gastown and Granville Mall neighbourhoods of Vancouver. Their research focuses on three programs utilizing private security services: the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association’s “Downtown Ambassadors” and “Loss Prevention Officers” programs, and the Gastown Business Improvement Society’s “Security Patrol” program. They examine the working aspects of these programs, explore their impact on the neighbourhood, and look at levels of cooperation with police. They explore the adoption of ’broken windows’ as a philosophy by these programs, and how this philosophy is translated into policing practices on the street. The findings lead to a critique of both the ’broken windows’ thesis and of current conceptions of consumer culture.

Huey and her colleagues suggest that these areas are characterized by “retail-oriented policing”. Retail-oriented policing is “about creating and preserving images that are desired by consumers from within specific targeted ’lifestyles.’” They contend that these new policing practices are leading to, and exacerbating, divisions within neighbourhoods. Policing oriented toward commercial interests and aimed at preserving the commercialized “identity” of spaces, “involves the use of various levels of coercion to ensure that the wholeness of this ‘new identity’ is preserved.” This image of wholeness is achieved only through exclusion of those parts that do not belong. The “broken windows” philosophy supports this process, through its prioritization of commercial interests over those of other community interests.

The work of Chris Murphy and Curtis Clarke explores the flip side of the coin – the impact of the growth of private-sphere services on the public sector. Their research shows just how different the outcomes of public service rationalization can be. While both Halifax and Edmonton have faced the roughly similar fiscal and ideological pressures, the impact on the organization of policing services in each city was different. In Halifax, there has been a return to a traditional, reactive crime-fighting style, whereas Edmonton responded to the fiscal crunch by instituting proactive, community-style policing. These points of divergence offer an opportunity to examine a variety of organizational and operational policing practices, different models of public and private policing governance, and to explore policing policy issues and directions.

Murphy and Clarke’s findings give empirical substance to claims that trends in policing are linked to broader transformations in the economy and shifts in mentalities of governance. Indeed, changes in the relationship between public police and private security in both locales can be traced to governmental initiatives shaped by fiscal and political pressures. The increasing cost of public policing coupled with a shift to neo-liberal attitudes of government and governance has limited the expansive growth characteristic of the liberal, welfare state model. Nevertheless, their case studies suggest the need to examine how local forces shape responses to global trends. In Nova Scotia, provincial governments have a history of not intervening in municipal affairs and private security has been able to grow in Nova Scotia with minimal government regulation. Limited government intervention has meant that it there has been little effort to rationalize or integrate public and private policing: policing and security is in effect self-regulated, loosely networked, largely beyond public scrutiny and guided primarily by market forces and values. On the other hand, policing and security in Alberta were drawn into a larger, self-conscious restructuring process carried out by the government of Alberta. As a result, private security was integrated in a diverse policing network with the Edmonton public police as the central hub of its operations. Murphy and Clarke’s study affirms the pluralization of policing thesis, but – most importantly – concludes that the pluralization of policing is attenuated by local political cultures and historical factors.

George Rigakos confronts a fundamental question that arose in the previous four chapters: is it possible to re-imagine the activities of policing within a conceptual framework that moves beyond the public-private distinction. Rather than accepting the existing structure of police organizations and activities, Rigakos organizes policing practices in terms of their relation to the more basic substratum of human activities. Beginning from the assumption that ‘policing’ is not limited to the work done by public police officers, Rigakos developed a typology of order and security arrangements based on a general classification of policing activities. He identifies five types of policing activity: (1) polemic; (2) sentry-dataveillant; (3) investigative; (4) patrol; and (5) civic-sumptuary. These categories overcome some of the problems associated with continuing to employ the public-private dichotomy and provide a refreshingly different perspective on the constitution of order and security. More importantly, they allow us to move beyond questions associated with the sectoral designation of a given officer in order to appreciate both the fluidity in the types of activities engaged in by each and how these may vary in location. Furthermore, this categorization of policing activities can be applied in empirical contexts in order to better understand the day-to-day constitution of order and security. As such, the work represents a promising theoretical contribution to the literature on policing and security.

Finally, as Chair from 1991 to 1995 of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board, the civilian agency responsible for the governance of Canada’s largest municipal police service, Susan Eng looks at policing as a “public good”. Policing is often characterized as a social contract between citizens and the state: individuals give up certain liberties and the state guarantees that policing will be equitable and impartial. There are different governing bodies that are responsible for ensuring that policing policies and practices properly meet public needs and expectations. For Eng, there exists a democratic gap between the mandate and practice of these agencies. Not everyone is equal before the law; some segments of society are over-policed and do not have a real voice in shaping police policies. The discrepancy between the law on the books and the law in practice creates a democracy gap.

The increasingly prevalent role played by private security exacerbates this gap. Private policing caters to the interests of private property owners and businesses. Those who are policed are done so according to overriding commercial interests. There is no social contract between those working in private security and those being policed.

Like Hermer and his colleagues, Eng opts for policing boards as a mechanism to provide effective, democratic and community-driven oversight of public and private policing agencies. A new legislative framework could be developed to ensure that policing boards reflect core democratic values in policing. Such a framework could build upon and improve the current system of oversight for the public police. A governance body with an overall mandate to translate community safety and security needs into policing policies, standards and practices (of both the public police and private security) would better ensure civilian oversight and accountability in public policing and address accountability concerns with private security. For Eng, the establishment of an effective governance model, one that encompasses both public and private security, would allow the state to fulfil its role in the social contract as the guarantor that the provision of services reflects democratic values. The challenge is to ensure services are provided to all segments of society, not just to those who can afford them.

A copy of the original book is forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press.