(March 17, 2022) The Vancouver Police Department latest recruitment video presented a shocking scene that showed officers (soldiers) in tactical gear with assault rifles rappel up and down fiery buildings and descend from helicopters, all to an intense, digitally boosted orchestral soundtrack music that sounds like it was lifted from the latest trailer for Call of Duty.
What in the world were they—and their advertising agency thinking—that we need armed combat officers to patrol our city streets, answering the desperate calls from the lonely, angry, poor, scared, and dispossessed. Had news of community policing not reached their ears? Had the communications department not been aware of movement to defund the police because of their ready, fire, aim policies of policing? Or were they just using it as a show of force agains?
The VPD puts paid to the “lack of training” rationale police departments often roll out when deadly use of force has occurred during encounters with Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, LGBTQ+, the mentally ill or poor people.
“It’s simply an appalling piece of propaganda,” Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University told iheartradio.ca. It’s a piece of propaganda meant to show the police as a deadly force and that seems to be the message they are trying to convey to new recruits. And it’s not an accident. Advertisements take a lot of money to make, especially a Call of Duty type ads. A lot of thought goes into it from ad agency representation, the messaging is debated and decided upon, revisions are made until the final product, in this case a tax-payer funded product, is ready for airing. And nothing appears onscreen unless you want it there.
It was removed within a day, in response to a strong backlash, but it nevertheless represents a troubling trend.
Journalists and citizens have been commenting on the excessive militarization of American police forces for years. These critiques have only become more urgent as the deep rot of racial violence within police forces has been exposed. But police violence is not an exclusively American problem. According to a June 2021 report by a House of Commons Committee on systemic racism in Canadian policing, “systemic racism in the criminal justice system. . .has led to biased outcomes.”
Inevitably, abusive police behaviour “erodes public confidence in institutions like the justice system as well as places from the public service to corporate Canada.” We already know that increasing police militarization decreases public trust. We now public trust in Canada is at an all-time low*. Canadian cultural politics are already steeped in American priorities and imagery- we don’t need any more. Journalists have expressed this in the past, and the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the VPD recruitment video shows that public opinion still has power in this particular arena. Surely dramatic soldier-style photoshoots are not the best way for VPD officers to earn their starting salary of $77,983 per year. A militarized police force is not good for any society, and Canadians must continue to speak up against the Americanization of its police forces, and American political culture in general.
Despite the troubling show by the Vancouver Police Department, the Province restores $5.7 million that was cut from 2021 Vancouver police budget. The provincial decision to override Vancouver council’s police budget and restore over $5 million in funding that was cut last year, according to the Vancouver Sun on March 14.
“The shortfall had a direct impact on the number of police officers the VPD was able to hire to meet the city’s complex policing needs,” said Chief Adam Palmer.
The Sun also reported that, “A group of about 20 agencies including Pivot Legal Society and PACE Society called last spring for the so-called “defunding” of police in Vancouver and a diversion of those funds to social services, harm reduction and housing.
We can only worry about what kind of officers the VPD intends on putting on those streets.