Thursday, December 9, 2010

Abuse of authority

Long-time blog readers will have noted here several discourses about people seemingly unable to participate in activities using shared facilities. Lane swimming is an example that frequently comes to mind. Yesterday I was sharing a lane with Mz. Backstroke. She isn't the fastest swimmer in the pool by a long shot, but I love sharing a lane with her. Why? She keeps track of where the other swimmers are, and will let them by at the turn. She has never once been in my way, and I've shared a lane with her probably once a week at least for several years. In addition, she swims neatly and predictably. No flailing limbs, no zig zagging down the lane, no big splash.

Many of the other swimmers at FOMC, (more commonly known as Renfrew) are equally considerate about letting faster people swim through. While I'm often one of the fastest people in the pool, I'm acutely aware there are several people that make me look like I need remedial lessons. I recognize their swim suits and stroke, to say nothing of the steam rising from the water in their wake, and I stay out of their way. I also try to watch to see exactly what they're doing, which is a bit of a problem given how shortsighted I am. There is a firm line between the looking at each other we need to do to avoid running into each other, or to make conversation, or to watch someone's stroke to see what they're doing, and being a pervert about it.

So yesterday me and Mz. Backstroke are coming to the lane end. She knows I'm behind her and is neatly tucked over to her side. I'm swimming down the centre of the lane just coming up beside her feet knowing she will pause while I turn. As far as we know there is nobody else in our lane. Except for the jerk that climbed down the ladder as she was moving toward that space. She stopped abruptly. I see her feet touch bottom about 6 feet before I expected it, just as I'm breathing and getting set up for a flip turn. At about the last second I realized someone had gotten in Mz. Backstroke's way, and was now standing right at flip turn central.

You don't have much time to think. Anybody that rude is likely to push off just then. At the last second I converted to an open turn just to keep an eye on him. Told him "wrong place to be, pal", and pushed off. Mz. Backstroke pushed off right on my feet, and I was happy to see him swimming in the next lane over.

There's been a few incidents at the pool where there has been a confrontation between people. I remember one guy looking at the lane with two people swimming circles, keeping left, per the board right there so the two lanes are going the same way right along the lane rope. So he gets in and starts swimming keeping right (which often happens in violation of the sign), and deliberately ran over one of the nicest people swimming there, then got in her face and tried to bully her into admitting she was wrong and should have been watching for him. He even dragged in the pool supervisor, since a "mere deck lifeguard" (his words) clearly wasn't important enough to resolve the dispute. All involved told him he was being a jerk, though in nicer language than that. He didn't like that much and got huffy. In the change room after considerably stronger language was used.

Also yesterday, just as I was leaving the pool, the news was talking about an incident where an "11-year veteran was charged with one count each of assault and uttering threats". They made contact and there was a "verbal altercation". Here's the story as reported by CBC. The radio said the cop threatened and bullied the other patron. I know nothing more about it.

Every swimmer has rapped knuckles with another swimmer. We've all been touched by someone else who is swimming a bit wider, or has had a turn go wrong, or something. It's no big deal. We've all had to cope with having a slow swimmer in our lane that doesn't get out of the way, and doesn't seem to realize they are in the wrong place. It happens and we cope. I'll apologize even if I'm pretty sure it's the other guy's fault. We're all there to swim, and we all helped pay for the facility.

I freely admit there is a bit of a swim lane Nazi in me that would like to see people swimming together, like with like. Mainly that's sorted by speed. Or those doing intervals and are watching the clock to the second. All the breaststrokers should have their own little ghetto lane. Except for the ones who swam it competitively and can keep up, and keep it narrow. I'd rather swim in a lane with 4 other swimmers going my speed, than a lane with 2 swimmers going different speeds.

Earlier this year there was a G20 meeting in Toronto and a similar meeting at a resort north of Toronto. It was a massive exercise in denial of civil liberties. The cops over reacted in closing off public areas, and dealing with peaceful protesters. There is video of Mr. Nobody (that is really his name) being beaten by cops who have concealed their identities. They essentially behaved like a gang of organized thugs.

There are other cases. Perhaps the most famous one is where 4 cops tasered a man to death in the Vancouver airport, then lied about it. A video was released catching them in the lies. They changed their story slightly, and lied some more in court about it.

In some places cops charge people with obstruction of justice when they use cell phones to tape police activies. I don't know if that has happened here, but it's outrageous. Cops acting in the line of duty in public have no expectation of privacy. Filming them, providing restrictions about access to the scene are obeyed, doesn't restrict them from working. What it does is inhibit them from is abusing their powers. I fully recognize cops have to go into charged situations and deal with it. They don't get much time to think about it. The consequences of a mistake can be very serious. I'm inclined to cut the cops some slack on this.

Some slack. If there are x many complaints about excessive police force in a year, filed against x (or near x) many cops, and all are investigated, and all cops are cleared, then I'm not likely to be too fussed. But when the same cop, or cops are alleged to have engaged in excessive force again and again, then something is fishy. These are the cases where cops can't be investigating themselves, although it shouldn't happen at all. This is where civilian oversight is needed. Civilian oversight with huge sharp fangs. They need to be able to go in with enough authority to break up a cop clique.

Our society gives some people extra rights and responsibilities. We let firemen and ambulance drivers violate the rules of the road to deal with an emergency. (Though I still think a front facing camera should be mounted on each emergency vehicle, and every single time the lights and siren are on, someone ought to review the tape looking for drivers that didn't get out of the way. Those drivers should be spanked hard. I saw it today. I digress.) We give cops guns and tasers, with guidelines on how and when they should be used. We let judges make decisions about who goes to jail. They all know stuff about us we don't want our friends to know. They can look up stuff about us. Some of them can add things to our database files. That power is scary.

We expect all of these people to exercise good judgement in the execution of their duties. Quite frankly, we expect them to be better people in general than most of us. Our society is so complex that it simply isn't possible to write a rule for every circumstance. We rely on people having good judgement about what an appropriate response is. We rap knuckles in the pool, exchange sorries, and carry on without a further thought. Someone gets in the lane without consideration for what's already happening there, someone politely but firmly tunes them in. Most of the time it's ignorance as in not knowing, as opposed to ignorance as in being a jerk.

Then we get into that cop having an altercation in a swim lane. Again, I don't know what caused it. I don't know the circumstances. But it sure sounds like abuse of authority, since a threat from a cop carries considerably more weight than from a random member of the public. People say, he's off duty, cut him some slack. Well, if an off duty cop can arrest someone and write up the report as if he was on duty, then, in fact, he's never off duty. And what else has he been up to? Any other accusations of excessive force, or other un-cop-like behaviour? We need to look at these situations very carefully. Anyone can have a bad day and lose it, even a cop or a judge. But once we start to see a history of it, then that person has to go. End of story. They aren't the right kind of person to be a cop, to be trusted with that sort of power.

Many years ago I had a job interview that in terms of getting the job didn't go well for me. The guy was an old pro and quickly determined I was the wrong kind of person for that job. In hindsight he was totally correct. We ended up having a nice chat. It turned out he almost didn't care about the technical skills involved. He said he could teach the skills to almost anyone, but what he couldn't teach was attitude and the minute to minute social skills involved. (It was a sales job and I was a callow youth.) He said lots of people can fake it, for a while, but eventually their true stripes will show.

Same with cops. A cop can make a mistake, even a serious one, and it can be treated as a learning experience. But a cop that's a bully at heart, or holds the homeless in contempt, or thinks that drug addicts aren't human, or that legitimate protesters are terrorists, or has bought into the "if you aren't a cop you're the enemy" mindset, is going to show those stripes eventually, and the only solution is to remove them from the force before they infect other cops.

Even more importantly, they need to be removed to protect other cops. The RCMP has been badly wounded over the DziekaƄski incident at the Vancouver airport. By trying to cover up it and other cases they have lessened the respect in which the organization is held. People are more suspicious of them, more likely to be uncooperative in encounters with them, all of which makes it more difficult to solve crimes. People wonder if the cop they are talking to is going to go postal on them. We teach kids that cops are where to go when they are in trouble. Well, in at least some cases, especially if you're Native, or black, or can't speak English well, cops ARE the trouble. And that is a very sad thing for our society.

Swam an hour this morning, a mixed bag. Felt tired and slow beside several other faster swimmers. Water ran 15 minutes in the dive tank. My knee is feeling a bit cranky today.

Prolotherapy shots after the swim, and now it's feeling really cranky. It feels full, and stiff. The spin class tonight is looking like a definite maybe.


  1. Touched in the pool? Well, maybe. But not like THAT! ;)

  2. People are so funny when they get in the pool -- it's the same phenomenon as when they are driving. So bizarre -- normally kind people, turn into aggressive, unapologetic a$$holes.

  3. I've been hanging around some triathletes lately (okay, there's one that's really hot and I'm hoping for an introduction, but I'm still six degrees of separation) and trying to figure them out a bit, so I stop by here and... I admit I don't get it at all, though the image of the RCMP on their horses in a swimming pool is intriguing.

    So, I'll do a "Glaven" and note you said "It feels full, and stiff." And that's a bad thing?

    I'm still pondering your take on indoor running as being for "weenies," when you swim indoors, take spin classes, do yoga sessions... have they domed all of Calgary yet?

  4. Unfortunately, some of the people that go into positions of power do so for the completely wrong reasons.

    I think I'm lucky to swim in a town. There's less people and less anonymity. There's still those that are clueless about lane etiquette, but I haven't dealt with many jerks.


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