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RNC have lost the plot

By: | October 19, 2014

Who are the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary trying to recruit with their new video? How well do they understand the community?

Jon Parsons
Power and Dissent offers a critical take on culture, society and politics in Newfoundland and Labrador

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In a new recruitment video for the RNC, images of the force's "Public Order Unit" are used to entice new recruits. In 2008 members of the Toronto Police Service visited St. John's to train RNC officers in "crowd control". At the time, Sgt. Russ Cook of the Toronto Police Service told The Telegram, "The whole philosophy around public order is crowd management. We have the ability to go out and meet and greet the people we're dealing with, and then we work on the basis of gradual application of force." Photo: gornc.ca

Before continuing, please take a minute and watch this newly released video being shared by the RNC media relations team:

This video, and the recruitment campaign of which it is a part, dangerously speaks to a particular kind of potential recruit.

The heroic, militaristic drumbeat, the culmination of the action in the forced penetration-insertion of a heavily armed tactical unit, the glorification of assault rifles and militaristic gear of different kinds, the constant “kerssshhhh” of the radios: the video is very much like a montage from a first-person-shooter video game or a scene in a badly written action movie. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to see the video is macho as hell.

Who does this recruitment video appeal to? Well, it appeals to dominators and sadists. It appeals to those who want to have power over others. It appeals to young men that get an erection from being in a position of authority. Enough said about that.

About community

Notice as well the video does not have a single frame of a police officer talking to a citizen, and only one brief clip with citizens in the background at all. There is no interaction between the officers and the community – they only talk to each other, and even that limited communication is mediated by the radio or other forms of technology. This is a pack of trained animals, animals that respond only to instructions relayed from a master who is somewhere else: they do not assess or respond to the situation they encounter. In short, they are not a part of the community but instead operate upon that community. It is for them a hostile, enemy terrain, and one that needs to be pacified.

In this sense, the video conveys a particular understanding of the community. It is a world of good guys and bad guys, evils that lurk unseen, where our heroic police must root out that evil through whatever means necessary, and our role as citizens is to not ask questions.

Part of the reason many citizens accept this subordinate position and automatically give police carte blanche is because, as David Graeber points out in his essay “Beyond Power/Knowledge,” police have “over the last fifty years or so become the almost obsessive objects of imaginative identification in popular culture. It has come to the point that it’s not at all unusual for a citizen in a contemporary industrialized democracy to spend several hours a day reading books, watching movies, or viewing TV shows that invite them to look at the world from a police point of view.”

Regardless of whether this immersion in the police point of view via popular culture means we actually know anything about what police really do, it is partly the reason police are given such free reign in society. But although citizens spend a good deal of time identifying with and trying to understand the police, do the police spend as much time identifying with and trying to understand the citizenry?

From what we see in the RNC video the answer is absolutely not. Instead of understanding situations and instead of interacting with citizens, the police in the video can only react with force and the threat of violence. Graeber’s essay, once again, offers an interesting perspective on the use of force in place of understanding:

Most human relations—particularly ongoing ones, either between longstanding friends or longstanding enemies—are extremely complicated, dense with experience and meaning. Maintaining them requires a constant and often subtle work of interpretation, of endlessly imagining others’ points of view. Threatening others with physical harm allows the possibility of cutting through all this. It makes possible relations of a far more schematic kind (i.e. ‘cross this line and I will shoot you’). This is of course why violence is so often the preferred weapon of the stupid: indeed, one might say it is one of the tragedies of human existence that this is the one form of stupidity to which it is most difficult to come up with an intelligent response.

The kind of ignorance and stupidity Graeber describes is just what we see in the RNC video. Most obviously, ignorance of the community is demonstrated by the exclusion of citizens from the video and in that use of force is the only means of resolving conflict.

Again, I am not suggesting the video is a true representation of policing (after all, from what I understand at least half of policing is tedious paperwork). But as a cultural expression of policing the video conveys a shocking lack of tact.

Now about those riot police

Finally, something needs to be said about the imagery of the riot police. For me, this is another point where the video egregiously goes out of bounds. The images of the line of fully-equipped riot police marching in step through a haze of smoke (or is it fog?) makes absolutely no sense in the context of protest in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The riot police shown in the video are part of the RNC Public Order Unit (POU). The RNC website notes the composition and purview of this unit:

40 officers including commanders and a Deputy Chief of Police. It also consists of 4 horses, 3 dogs, and members of the Tactics & Rescue Unit. All members of the POU assume this role as a secondary duty and are situated within the RNC North East Avalon jurisdiction. The POU is responsible for crowd control management for large public gatherings. Their main priority is to maintain public order and ensure public safety. They have been effectively trained on how to interact with different types of crowds and diffuse volatile situations.

In an interview with The Telegram, on the occasion of a training exercise conducted by the RNC Public Order Unit in conjunction with the Toronto Police Service, we learn the modus operandi of this unit: “The whole philosophy around public order is crowd management …We have the ability to go out and meet and greet the people we’re dealing with, and then we work on the basis of gradual application of force.”

 They are not a part of the community but instead operate upon that community. It is for them a hostile, enemy terrain, and one that needs to be pacified.

What possible occasion might there be for riot police, with such a philosophy of gradual application of force, to be deployed? Are they going to show up at a peaceful protest with a couple hundred people, as is typical in St. John’s? And if they did, is there any other purpose than to intimidate the protesters and suppress democratic rights?

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that there has not been a riotous protest in the North East Avalon in recent memory, let’s assume there actually was an occasion to deploy riot police. Is it likely that it would be against a small number of protesters, like is typical of protests in the city, or would it be on the occasion of a bigger protest, say a thousand angry people, or how about the kind of massive protests that rocked the city in the 1930s?

Does the RNC truly believe that 40 police officers and a couple dogs will be able to maintain public order if the pot boiled over in St. John’s? If so, then they really are as ignorant as they’re making themselves out to be in the video. In that light, I hope you will understand what I’ve been saying here is really an effort to protect the RNC from what seem to be their own dangerous delusions.

As you will see below, in a mashup of the RNC video, other people are also critiquing this absurdity.


Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on TheIndependent.ca, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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