A little political pressure needed to loosen tight-lipped police forces

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By now most people have seen that crazy video of the cops in Alberta arresting a teenage girl in a Star Wars costume.  The arrest was, to put it lightly, overzealous.

The girl was unmistakably dressed up as a Stormtrooper, carrying what was very clearly a plastic toy weapon.  The police say it looked like a gun, but to be accurate, there are no guns in the Star Wars universe, there are only ‘blasters’ but regardless of your awareness of sci-fi nomenclature, it was obviously not a real gun.

While plenty of ink has been spilled about the absurdity of a buncha cops drawing very real guns and pointing them at a teenager holding a very not real gun, there’s something equally troublesome towards the end of the video that most people didn’t notice.

With the poor girl already face down and handcuffed behind her back, the video continues to roll as an officer (who is carrying a rifle) approaches the man recording the incident and threatens to arrest him.  He tells him to “stop interfering” and demands that he leave the area.

“You’re going to get arrested if you interfere here,” the officer is heard telling the bystander.

That wouldn’t have been an issue if this person was actually interfering, but even by the loosest definition of the word, he was absolutely not interfering in the situation at all.

At that point in the video, the woman had already been “disarmed” of her toy blaster.  She was on the ground with two other officers (holding rifles) standing above her.  The man recording the video was a good 30 yards away from the incident when he was berated by an armed officer and threatened with arrest.

Without this video, the entire incident may have gone largely unnoticed.  Instead, the video was splashed across the globe, including places like TMZ and Fox News.

Watching the cops yell “stop interfering” at a man 30 yards away who was clearly not interfering, reminded me of the many absurd videos of cops yelling “stop resisting” as they violently arrest a suspect who is clearly not resisting.

Police forces across the country have become far too comfortable bending the rules, or at least taking rather liberal interpretations of what constitutes public safety.  They’ve also become far too comfortable at providing little to no valuable information both during, and after, serious incidents.

Last week, police laid second degree murder charges in Welland, Ontario, but provided virtually no details of what happened.  A statement from police said that “a disturbance” took place, and as a result, they arrested a man and charged him with second degree murder.  That’s it.  That’s all they were willing to say.

What about that crazy arrest of the Star Wars girl?  What did police have to say about that situation?  Also nothing.

Nowadays, any attempt to get a statement on a serious incident involving the police is met with a near-identical statement, regardless of which police force you are dealing with.

“It would be inappropriate to comment while an investigation is underway,” has become the stock answer to any inquiry to a police force.  The problem, of course, is that there is always an investigation underway.  Any serious incident involving the police will immediately result in the Specials Investigations Unit invoking their mandate, which then immediately results in the police saying, “can’t comment, under investigation.”

Then six months later (if you’re lucky) the SIU wraps up their investigation, so you contact the police, only to find they have launched their own internal review, and the answer you get is, “can’t comment, under investigation.”

Then another six months later (if you’re lucky) the internal investigation wraps up, but it results in some kind of disciplinary action against an officer and the answer you get is “can’t comment on personnel matters for privacy reasons.”

And that’s that, start to finish, a series of carefully crafted “no comments.”

For our part, the media is largely helpless to do anything about this situation.  We have no leverage to compel the police to be more forthcoming with details.  There once was a time when you could gather information from off-the-record police sources, but they’ve done an annoyingly good job at stomping those out.

The only people who have any leverage over the police are the politicians who control the police budgets.  Unfortunately, for a variety of complicated reasons, politicians do little more than rubber stamp police budgets.  It would take a brave politician to speak up and demand more transparency and better communications from police forces, who for the most part enjoy broad public support, making them an unlikely target for any political pressure.

Until then, we have to rely on brave folks like the man who filmed the cops tackling that Star Wars cosplayer.  It takes genuine balls to keep filming after the cops yell at you and threaten to arrest you.  For most people, our instinct is to obey what cops tell us to do, especially if they are holding a rifle, even if something about the situation seems off.

He may not have a lightsaber or be able to wield The Force, but the guy who filmed the cops arresting the Stormtrooper that day might be the closest thing we’ve got to a real life Star Wars hero.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from James Culic.    @JamesCulic

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