The civil disorder which Constable David Bratzer prophesizes in Victoria is likely a product of his idiosyncratic worldview informed by coming into contact with the most undesirable conditions of being human. He might be excused for the predicted catastrophe about living in Victoria, British Columbia.
I’m not accusing Mr. Bratzer of any particular wrong-headedness, but the academic research on policing has identified how police think since 1966 when Jerome Skolnick published, “A Sketch of the Policeman’s Working Personality“. Over the years of enforcing the law, police become cynical about the criminal justice response to law-breakers.
Collectively, the working personality of Bratzer’s occupational group constitutes the “police subculture” – a cluster of values and practices which varies by the “task environment” of real and perceived threats to their personal safety. Aside from these objective challenges, this subculture is determined by the extent to which the polity, public and criminal justice system actors are seen by cops as supporting their role. It’s worth looking at the this occupational personality to provide a backdrop for Bratzer’s dire warning on WordPress.
First, policing is seen as a mission, and not just a 9 to 5 job. For their way of thinking, working in hostile environments maintains the “thin blue line” between civilized society and criminal mayhem. The inference to be drawn from Bratzer’s post is that all hell will break loose because of two City Councillors’ notice of motion. Yup, that’s all it is, a notice of motion which can be amended, tabled or defeated at City Council. So it turns out that Bratzer’s “catastrophism” is a rhetorical technique to entice public agreement and is on full display in the good constable’s message.
Secondly, police have a natural suspicion about other people which leads them to stereotype individuals. Bratzer’s message stereotypes all people sleeping in cars, including those in recreational vehicles with children whose families use them as temporary shelter. Unless we know the individuals personally, and how they were influenced to make decisions which lead them to street life, we can be cautious in our judgements.
Thirdly, the police subculture is characterized by internal solidarity and social isolation. Only the police understand policing. Given that Cst. Bratzer writes on behalf of police, he and will likely enjoy their kudos because there’s finally someone to publicly vent collective frustration with crime and disorder. The unintended consequences may be that Bratzer’s missive alienates the Victoria City Police from the civic decision-makers who could have some influence on the structural conditions which foster homelessness (e.g., property speculation, empty residences held by foreign buyers, and criminogenic drug laws).
The fourth feature of the values within the police subculture is political conservatism and pragmatism. Police rarely embrace innovation, experimentation, and research. Ironically, it was David Bratzer who showed the opposite of these three features when he was President of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Canada). David won a human rights complaint against his employer when the latter tried to silence his activism on behalf of a group of current and former peace officers who are committed to repealing prohibition on the grounds that criminalizing drugs creates public disorder, and hands drug distribution to organized crime.
Rather than side with the occupational perspective of his peers which may alienate them from the polity they wish to influence, Bratzer might have taken the more progressive route and decried the structural conditions which have led to homeless and disorder in Victoria. Working jointly with Victoria City Council, Bratzer and his fellow police officers could be working to confront the “why” of poverty, drug abuse and homelessness.
It’s not too late.