“The Selling of the Police”

Margaret Beare of York University in Toronto has written for many years on the “selling” of the police.

Beare’s profile begins as follows:

Her PhD dissertation, involving a study of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force from 1957 to 1987, was titled The Selling of the Police. Beare examined the rhetoric of policing – the language and the arguments used by police, consciously and unconsciously, publicly and privately, to engender a sense of danger or hysteria from often innocuous circumstances.

In a variety of venues, Beare has criticized exaggerated rhetoric about crime, attributing the situation to a combination of politicians, the police force and the media. Her point is not that there is no crime – only that the response is “incommensurate or inappropriate”:

Beare doesn’t throw all the blame at the police. “The packaging of the argument varies,” she says. However, says Beare, it involves a partnership among politicians, the police force and the media. She also isn’t saying that a threat doesn’t exist, simply that the response to it is often incommensurate or inappropriate.

Beare continues:

Why does this happen? Beare argues, “When you have a political motivation around a notion of dangerousness, the police will buy into it. But it’s also really advantageous to them because it means they will receive more resources, a higher profile and media attention.” Why is this bad? One of the issues, Beare contends, is the resultant misallocation of government resources to combat the perceived threat.

Beare’s most recent book is entitled Honouring Social Justice: Honouring Dianne Martin, dedicated to late Osgoode Professor Dianne Martin, who contributed a chapter which contained the following sentence in a footnote (a point that caught my eye and which I may return to):

McCormack Jr was Gordon Junger’s partner at the time [of the 1989 Junger scandal] and implicated in the [2004] 52 Division shakedown scandal.

McCormack Jr was in the news during Climategate. A selection of “private” telephone conversations involving McCormack and other Toronto police officers was printed in the Toronto Star (here). All charges against McCormack and associates were recently stayed (a legal term for being terminated) – a decision that has left a sour taste in Toronto.

I mention Beare’s work on a climate blog because there seem some obvious parallels in the sociology and rhetoric.


9 Comments

  1. AMac
    Posted Mar 30, 2010 at 4:16 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Roger Pielke Jr. quotes Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger:

    Climate science, even at its most uncontroversial, could never motivate the remaking of the entire global energy economy. Efforts to use climate science to threaten an apocalyptic future should we fail to embrace green proposals, and to characterize present-day natural disasters as terrifying previews of an impending day of reckoning, have only served to undermine the credibility of both climate science and progressive energy policy.

  2. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Mar 30, 2010 at 11:21 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Oliver K. Manuel. It is interesting that another classic, “Animal Farm” has a major theme about building a windmill – it is destroyed. The first 6 words in the 1999 movie version are “Is was a storm of judgement”. Trivia, but fitting trivia.

  3. don
    Posted Mar 31, 2010 at 12:23 AM | Permalink | Reply

    This is nothing new. Sociologists have noticed this for years, and it’s usually covered in any good introductory sociology course. Indeed, a dispassionate reading of the history of science would allow one to conclude that science comes into the world red in tooth and claw, to paraphrase Marx. I think that could be extended to junk science too. I suspect what’s new today is the progressive use of the “moral equivalent of war,” saving the planet from real an imagined catastrophes, to justify the further spending of private dollars to provide a dubious public good.

  4. Posted Mar 31, 2010 at 2:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

    In the famous words of Pogo, “I have seen the enemy and he is us.”

    The linkage to sociology is highly appropriate. These phenomena are all directly attributable to human psychology. I should say weaknesses. Fear, greed, and sloth, leave the majority of humanity with a “Victim” sign, hung around our necks. And also, provide a mechanism for our abuse. This mechanism is government. Basically, any and all governments. It will not do to issue a blanket condemantion of all elected or appointed people, nor of all the people in the various branches of the civil service. However, governments are inherently evil. Those people who seek office are by defintion seeking power. The power they seek is for the promotion of personal ideals and adgenda. Once such office is attained, the highest possible goal of such a person must be the maintainance of that position by whatever means are nessesary. This is all rational stuff. People in pubic office can hardly be faulted for following their, ‘Rational self interest’.

    The flaw is in ‘US’. Most humans are terrible delegators. For the most mundane of tasks, we will insit on keeping control within our own hands, yet in the most important areas, we will invariably try to pass responsiblity into any available hands. Whether they are qualified or not. And without any assurance that the interest or the values of the “delegatee” are aligned with our own. If you require evidence of the truth of this statement: Just refer to the growth of mutual funds for investors.

    In the near future I hope to start a blog promoting a new course for governance. “Evolution”, will focus on the need for individual participation in directing our lives, and in particular the developement of the technologies (already in existence), which make this feasable.

    Paul Repstock

  5. Luther Blissett
    Posted Mar 31, 2010 at 4:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The similarities connect via a conception of reason, deriving from Hume and refined by logical positiivism (and their empiricist philosophical heirs).

    Reason for Hume is ‘the discovery of truth and falsehood’. It follows from Ayer’s Verification Principle (meaningfulness requires non-tautological statements to be empirically verifiable) that the only possible candidates for meaningful statements are (putative) descriptions of the world that can be coordinated with observation, ie those (and only those) statements which can be true or false. Reasoning (as the paradigm exercise of reason) is the deriving of true statements (conclusions) from premises. Valid inferences require the premises to be true (facts).

    This conception of reason, tho considered (by a consensus :-) to be adequate for science and scientists, rules out a lot of things that people do with language, e.g. advise, evaluate, criticise, prescribe, hope, wish, etc. Consider the example “You should see a doctor about that cough” as moot. It also rules out figurative uses of language — and thereby paves the way for CP Snow’s 1959 ‘Two Cultures’.

    What it does not change is the fact that people continue to find it important to advise, evaluate, critise, etc, etc. (Or to use language: how many figures of speech did you notice in the last sentence of the previous paragraph?). But to the extent that people have become disaffected with science and technology, they have also turned away from reason and reasoning.

    In turn that has given rise to ‘behaviour modification’ strategies to influence people. But if this sociological tendency is a historical consequence of that (mis)conception of reason itself, there is a logical consequence of it which blocks the way out.

    For if what passes for ethical and prescriptive talk comprises entirely statements which cannot be true or false, then that automatically rules them beyond the scope of reason. Ethics in particular, and pracical reason in general, are then held to be mere ‘emotive grunting’, verbal exhortations. And if the metric of success is ‘behaviour modification’, it is hardly surprising that rhetorical features of language play such a big part, since their use is logically impeccable — as for that matter, is the recourse to the ad hominem.

    I take it that this will be read as a travesty of what it is to discuss things rationally. Last year the London Telegraph ran an item with the strapline “In a famous lecture 50 years ago, CP Snow warned that science and arts were becoming ‘two cultures’ – but the problem now is far, far worse” [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/5273453/Fifty-years-on-CP-Snows-Two-Cultures-are-united-in-desperation.html]. No progress there then.

    I would go further, and contend that science, the humanities and the arts all demonstrate in their own specific fields the effects of accepting a (mis)conception of reason. But that is OT.

  6. Posted Apr 1, 2010 at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Reply

    What it does not change is the fact that people continue to find it important to advise, evaluate, critise, etc, etc. (Or to use language: how many figures of speech did you notice in the last sentence of the previous paragraph?). But to the extent that people have become disaffected with science and technology, they have also turned away from reason and reasoning.

    • PaddikJ
      Posted Apr 7, 2010 at 9:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

      “But to the extent that people have become disaffected with science and technology, they have also turned away from reason and reasoning ”

      Dead-on, that.

  7. PaddikJ
    Posted Apr 7, 2010 at 9:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Long before Steve got to his conclusion, I was thinking “State of Fear” and that observation by Mencken (which I can’t recall word for word, but I’m sure most CA readers know what I’m referring to).

  8. Posted Apr 29, 2010 at 4:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    That’s the nature of bureaucrats and politicians everywhere, who are gutless, and of neo-marxist activists who object to protecting individuals against the initiation of force, support tyrannical regimes, and blame humans for climate variation (Margaret Beare uses some of their lingo and supports some environmentalist causes).

    I personally believe policing is not adequate. The one essential function of government is protection of the individual against the initiation of force. (Refer to Tara Smith’s books Moral Rights and Political Freedom and Viable Values for a discussion of the effect of force on thinking, and look around at the harm to individuals of being maimed or worse, and to poor people whose means of getting to work are stolen for examples of the impact of the free-lunch warped-psychology criminal mentality on individuals.) IMJ police are under-funded and not led properly. (The RCMP being the poster outfit for the latter in recent years, with officers who are supposed to be capable of dealing with terrorists behaving like scared recruits in the face of a distraught unarmed individual at Vancouver airport.) I do commend one action of Saanich BC police, who are trolling “social networking” sites looking for luring scams and other things. But there is a problem of sentencing and parole – some serious perpetrators get to ask for absolution after only one year, in lesser crimes the court is a revolving door (Victoria BC police have cleverly caught vehicle thieves by checking license plates outside the courthouse where the thief was appearing for some other reason, and following common criminals out of the courthouse to catch them stealing soon after).

    Certainly we could find many cases of over-promotion, being the stock in trade of politicians (which bureaucrats are) and of apocalyptics in general (climate alarmists of course, some religionists who repeatedly claim the world will end soon and ignore that their predictions didn’t match reality (just like climate alarmists), and various conspiracy theorists such as the “chemtrails” bunch). And of course you’ve seen it in the mineral exploration business. (The amazing Bre-X Indonesia scam always comes to mind – simple checking by a potential partner set off alarm bells both technical and ethical. People investing many millions had just believed the hype.)

    As to that academic’s thesis specifically, from the article I see several themes:
    - action against drug use. The debate in society is over the high rate of crime by addicts. Police want to outlaw drugs to prevent the crimes, but that encourages more organized dealing, more production (marijuana in BC for example) and is of questionable effectiveness (it has been reported that available is better and price lower). Does the academic think the media reports of killing of one drug dealing gang by another in the Greter Vancouver BC area are inaccurate?
    - action against money laundering is an improper reaction to the threat from Islamo-Facist terrorist warriors, who should instead be stopped at the source of their funding and religious motivation, including Iran’s tyrannical regime.
    - her term “social justice” is a red flag to me, being the standard lingo of neo-marxists who have a fixed pie view of economics and a drive-to-the-bottom expectation of humans coming from their denial of the efficacy of the mind and their failure to see that humans will practice life-sustaining actions when protected by true justice including property rights. While they sometimes appear to support “human rights”, as Beare appears to be doing, neo-marxists do not want to protect individuals against the initiation of force, such as by the Islamo-Facist terrorist warriors of September 11, 2001. They are eager to force themselves collectively by “protests”, with falacious arguments against police (as in the Langford BC interchange matter). While they claim they are for poor people and those discriminated against, they oppose the social system that feeds people and lets people achieve regardless of superficial characteristic like gender (individual rights protected by justice), don’t care about the impact of their climate totalitarian schemes on people (the poor will be hurt most of all) and support oppressive regimes such as in Venezuela and Palestine. The neo-marxists act to tear down instead of improving.
    - thus I am very wary of Margaret Beare because of her lingo and other of her writings (refer to “t’s not easy being green; Province has dubious track record on preserving farmland, says Margaret Beare” The Toronto Star, Wed 09 Mar 2005 and note her emphasis on collectivism in discrimination instead of behaviour toward each individual).

    The police activities she objects to are the result of poor methods of dealing with threats, which is typical of politicians and bureaucrats, who don’t have the sense and guts to address threats directly by dealing with errant individuals be they criminals or tyrants. Instead they want to remove power from individuals, such as by outlawing gun ownership (thus only outlaws will have guns). However neo-Marxists too use problems to promote their agenda of removing power from individuals – selling counter-productive actions with a destructive morality behind them. When David Suzuki’s mob comes looking for we defenders of humans in the matter of climate, my concern will become obvious. (He’s the activist who said in print in mass media that politicians who do not act on his climate desires should be jailed.)

    Yes, there is an alternative to Dick Cheney and Jack Layton – the demonstrably moral social system proven through history to feed, shelter and foster humans: individual freedom supported by justice and defense. We don’t have it fully in Canada and similar countries but to the extent we do it is the reason we create and produce, and have personal freedom.

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