I'm puzzled by the chilly recep- tion Mayor David Miller and police Chief Bill Blair have given the Guardian Angels.
In recent years there's been lots of talk about community policing, but when members of the community show up to help, Miller and Blair shut the door, claiming that "policing should be done by the police." This claim is simply wrong, and likely has more to do with the belief that "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" than with the community safety claims often cited by the mayor and chief.
I'm also not convinced about the concerns expressed by some critics about accountability. The police complaints process has never really had many teeth. And the reality is that civil actions against the Angels would have a greater chance of success than those brought against the police.
I have no idea whether or not the Angels will be effective in fighting crime, but this is not the point. The real question is whether the Angels' law-and-order campaign will lead to lawless disorder.
Miller and Blair simply assume that all vigilante groups will act like the drunken posse set up by Homer Simpson in response to the cat burglar who terrorized the town of Springfield.
If people are afraid that the Angels will take the law into their own hands and become mere street bullies, statistics don't appear to support that fear. The Angels have been operating for 27 years and now patrol more than 60 cities worldwide. Inviting the Guardian Angels to patrol the William Dennison seniors residence is not the equivalent of Mick Jagger inviting the Hell's Angels to act as security at the Altamont Festival.
Ironically, while Miller and Blair try to bolster a policing monopoly, last week the Law Commission of Canada released a report (In Search Of Security: The Future Of Policing In Canada) that completely undercuts the notion that the police should have exclusive control of law enforcement activities.
Despite the fact that police expenditures in Canada exceed $8 billion a year, the Commission points out that private security personnel outnumber public police two-to-one. The Commission speaks of developing policing "partnerships" between public police and private organizations, because the police and the public are "co-founders of security."
The Commission believes that the public, as consumers of security, should become an "integral part of democratic policing."
The bottom line is that the police do not have exclusive control over law enforcement and that there exist "networks of policing" that should be "overlapping, complementary and mutually supportive."
When detractors suggest that the police should have a monopoly on law enforcement, they are ignoring the fact that our legal heritage is one of private prosecution.
In fact, the origins of policing are found in the ancient practice of "hue and cry," in which all members of the community were legally obligated to assist in the apprehension of criminals.
The introduction of professional police, public prosecutors and defence lawyers was largely a creation of the 19th century and the demands of rapid industrialization, but our Criminal Code still retains numerous provisions allowing for the power of citizen's arrest and the right to commence a private prosecution.
We have become so accustomed to delegating responsibility for law enforcement to public officials, we have mostly forgotten that historically we were averse to turning over responsibility to legal professionals and other public bodies. We worried that the police might become a standing army and that a corp of public prosecutors would terrorize the vulnerable and protect those in power.
Now Miller and Blair are projecting these same fears onto grassroots organizations that want to exercise law enforcement powers provided to them at common law and by the Criminal Code. Under the law, a civilian's power to arrest and prosecute may be far more limited than the power afforded to police, but it is clear that our criminal law does not support the idea that only the police do policing.
In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada said: "The development of modern police forces brought about a transfer of law enforcement activities from private citizens to peace officers. But it is the police officer's powers which are in a sense derivative from that of the citizen, not the other way around."
When an intruder is breaking into my home at night, I am not going to call an Angel, whether Guardian or Charlie's. I will still dial 911. Most people should rely on public police forces in the event of an emergency.
But there is no reason why members of the community should not be allowed to supplement existing police services through preventive patrols. The power is there for the taking. If a civilian arrogates to him/herself more power than is allowed by law, then the police can step in to investigate, arrest and charge, but otherwise they should sit back and welcome the assistance.
I know that the police need not pander to every whim of a frightened public, and if it can be shown that the Angels get in the way of effective law enforcement, they should be disbanded.
But in placing our trust in professional police, we never intended to extinguish the powers given to members of the public to defend their communities as they see fit.