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Oxford professor’s principles recommended for Canadian police reform

An Oxford professor’s policing principles have recently been recommended as a model for reform by Canada’s Mass Casualty Commission’s final report following a public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting and the response of police on the ground.  

The report, which calls for an end to the organisation of law enforcement around a core set of Victorian principles established in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, as well as the introduction of a new and revised understanding of its roles and responsibilities, centres itself around the work of Ian Loader, a Fellow at All Souls and Professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford. 

When asked why he believed Peelian principles have previously been so closely held on to, despite having evolved into what Loader himself described as “ineffective cliches”, he told Cherwell: “The police like the Peelian principles because they make them feel good about the job they do and their place in society, without exercising any effective regulatory control over police strategy or behaviour.

“As such, the original principles operate mainly as a self-legitimation or branding device, not as a critical yardstick for public legitimacy. For this reason, they are not a good platform on which to locate discussion of the police mission or regain public trust.” 

Having served as a contributing voice on expert panels during the inquiry, the recommendation of six of Loader’s alternative principles is one of 130 published in the final report on the shooting. Emphasising the importance of resource integration, Loader highlighted the importance of pursuing public safety initiatives “with the approval of and in collaboration with the public and other agencies”. 

The initiatives should, according to Loader’s principles, be carried out in a way expressly designed to build “social cohesion and solidarity” while the police themselves remain at all times “democratically responsive to the people they serve” as well as the law. 

Taking place between the 18th and 19th April 2020, the Nova Scotia attack ultimately claimed the lives of 22 people, including a pregnant woman, when a 51-year-old driving a replica RCMP patrol car opened fire.  

Considered the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, commissioners found that an inadequate response by the RCMP had caused families and communities affected by events to have “questioned their former trust in the police” as issues of evidence handling and a failure to quickly issue public alerts became clear. 

Despite the extent of the tragedy, Loader remains optimistic that public trust in the police force is something that can be rebuilt, but that the key ultimately lies in “admitting mistakes and being open to an honest, difficult and inclusive conversation with affected individuals’ communities”.  

These dialogues would, according to Loader, need to concentrate particularly on “what went wrong, and how things could be done better in the future” while balanced by a commitment “not to act as if the police own all the answers to what makes communities safe”. 

Raising the issue of training, Loader has remained in favour of replacing the Canadian RCMP’s 26-week training program with a three-year program structured similarly to that of a university degree and described short-term police education as “becoming kind of untenable”. 

When asked about the extent to which he considered the changes recommended in Canada to be equally appropriate to policing efforts in the United Kingdom, Loader stated that “while it is important to be sensitive to differences in context […] there is sufficient family resemblance between the UK and Canada to think so”, citing “the troubled history of RCMP relations with first nations communities” as an example.

Loader told Cherwell: “The principles were in fact first developed in the context of a Commission I was on in the UK a decade ago [and are] intended as a way of thinking about what good policing looks like in any modern democratic society.”

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