Complaints about police conduct needs attention for one final reason. The sound reputation that police forces have been able to maintain for the last century and a half may not continue forever. There is some preliminary evidence that the faith of Canadians in their criminal justice system has lessened and is possibly waning. While this dissatisfaction is primarily linked to the courts regarding sentencing and the parole system in Canada, the police may not escape further criticism. There are few controls over the ebbing and waning of cultural beliefs (Roberts Public Confidence).

Conclusion - The John Howard Society of Alberta Perspective

The Mission of the John Howard Society of Alberta is to strive for

Informed, collaborative, effective and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.

How does that Mission relate to the issue of responding to citizen complaints about police conduct? The data cited earlier (Roberts et. al.) clearly indicates that the Canadian public is losing respect for the institutions that comprise our criminal justice system including police services.

Police officers in Canada are granted enormous power and authority by the citizenry including, in some circumstances, the power of justifiable homicide. But police officers are human, and subject to the same frailties as all other humans in our society. So when individual officers abuse that power and authority, or are perceived to abuse that power and authority, as has happened throughout our history and will continue to happen, it is a betrayal of the public trust the citizenry holds for the police. As the public perception that the police are not to be trusted grows, it follows that respect for the police and the laws they enforce diminishes. In a very real sense, an "us v. them" dichotomy arises, with "us" being the citizenry (or certainly segments thereof), and "them" being the police and all the police represent.

The longer the current situation persists, the greater the gulf between the police and the citizenry grows, and the more each views the other with suspicion, distrust, and for significant segments of our society - fear. Harmony within the community is lessened; respect for the law, and the agents of the law is lessened; and safety within the community is diminished.

This is already largely the case within those marginalized and readily identifiable (because of race) segments of our society who view the police as "the enemy". How, for example, is the First Nations youth who experiences verbal or physical abuse at the hands of the police, likely to respond to the norms and laws of a society that, in his view, is represented by the police? How is the citizen who lodges a complaint about police conduct likely to feel when, months later, he or she receives a letter from the Chief of Police indicating that "the complaint has been investigated and determined to be without merit"? Or even that "the complaint has been investigated, and the offending officer has been disciplined," without any further explanation.