Last weekend the Niagara Regional Police took to social media to shame a list of 29 people who are charged with an alleged criminal impaired driving offense. They posted the list in hopes that doing so would serve as a “deterrence to driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.”
The release also called upon the public to report (snitch) on any of those named in the list should they break their 90 day mandatory Ministry suspension.
Response has been mixed with some criticizing the list, it’s delivery and it’s effectiveness. Others have taken up the charge and gladly shared the list, engaged in the public shaming and encouraged others to do the same.
There is no statistical background to lay against this claim of such a list acting as a deterrent, however, the tactic does engage the community in policing – something which the NRP has a stake in. Similar efforts have been stopped in New Zealand in response to privacy concerns regarding the release of the information and it’s public use.
The most obvious question for anyone following the issue of local policing and shame tactics would have to be – where is the shame list for the NRP? Officers with the Niagara Regional Police have completely shaken public confidence and thrown off all notions of advancing the interests of community safety in recent years. Most notable being two massive scandals revolving around smuggling – including two separate border smuggling rings – one of which being a multi-million dollar drug smuggling ring which brought items such as the date rape drug into our community.
Outside of these high profile cases there have been a handful of domestic violence and abuse charges and convictions as well as mischief and trespass charges and even impaired driving charges. In each case, officers continued to receive pay (even while under suspension), and in many cases officers were still working within our community (the Provincial courts in the area seem the preferred hiding place) throughout their cases. Many of these instances go un or underreported in our local news and are easily made up by an aggressive PR strategy on the part of the NRP which attempts to drown out such issues with contrived and fabricated narratives of police charity and community involvement.
The most relevant recent case would be that of St. Catharines Sgt. Cathy Edgecombe. Edgecombe is a 16 year veteran of the NRP and has spent years extensively touring the area giving talks in schools to local youth about the dangers of drinking and driving. She has also been specially trained to administer testing to check for motorist impaired by drugs other than alcohol. On June 26, 2012 and at 2:44am it is alleged that Edgecombe herself was driving while impaired and rear-ended a motorcycle. It is unclear why Edgecombe, who not only drove impaired but actually hit another motorist who had to be hospitalized, was only charged with impaired driving.
How can the NRP expect to shame members of the community when their own officers – the same people who administer the testing and attempt to outreach in the community on this issue – engage in the exact same (or worse) behaviour?
The dilemma also extends to the lives of those who have been mentioned on that list – their families, jobs and aspirations. Sgt. Edgecombe has continued to hold her well paying job and has been given an even easier task of monitoring the local courtrooms. Her reputation and career advancement have been hindered, but her career security and stability has not. Who else can act with this kind of impunity – and what responsibility should the NRP wear if they move to tactics like this which they know will damage and harm the reputation of people in the community?
The community may feel that that price is worth paying considering the crime and the risk at which other people have placed innocent people by driving impaired – and I might even agree – however, at what point is this process cheapened by ceding our collective power and anger to a force in our community who engages in the same behaviour without anything close to the same repercussions?
I have been sober for nearly 6 years and the constant that rings through my head as I am asked a RIDE checkpoint – “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” – is the smart ass response “No, have you?” I’d caution against saying it – especially when the NRP enter the taser era – but it’s impossible for me to not want to direct this attempt at shaming back onto those in our community who seem the most capable of avoiding any kind of accountability for their actions.
For those who feel the urge to share and support this list, I hope you also give thought to talking to your family and friends this holiday about alternatives to drinking and driving and planning ahead. This is a social issue, a community issue, that is complicated when we offer up our neighbours to this kind of treatment. Shame, isolation, punishment are rarely long term solutions to social issues that involve drug and alcohol use. Open and honest communication as well as developing and building support bases for those who struggle – through the holidays and beyond – is a community goal we can all work on regardless of this list and it’s something that can provide long term positive results that don’t include our communities turning on each other, or ceding our collective anger, grief and frustration to an even more unaccountable force that operates over and down on our communities.
*I intentionally refused to cite sources used in this article – especially the shame list posted by the NRP. Photo use non commerical – credit unknown.
@dylanxpowell / @firstname.lastname@example.org