Many people were horrified when the video of the beating death of Tyre Nichols in Tennessee was made public over the weekend. The video shows five men, police officers in Memphis, beating Nichols during a traffic stop. The officers were all fired, and charged with second-degree murder. The story is being closely followed around the world as it has an impact on policing. That impact is felt even here in Weyburn.
“My stomach was upset,” said Weyburn Police Chief Jamie Blunden. “I can tell you I felt it was appalling and indefensible, and can indicate that’s the sentiment and the feeling of most of the police chiefs throughout the country.”
While the incident happened in the United States, the perception of the police even here in Canada is impacted, Blunden pointed out.
“You know, we want the public to feel confident in the police and they want to feel safe, but, you know, obviously with incidents like this, the perception of public safety goes down as well.”
There are a number of differences between policing in Canada versus the United States, but whenever a high-profile situation like the death of Tyre Nichols happens south of the border, it can sometimes lead to people painting the whole profession of policing with the same brush.
One difference between many parts of the United States and here in Saskatchewan is the creation of the Serious Incident Response Team. The legislation for the new agency came into effect this month, and it is an independent oversight body that will handle investigations when the use of force comes into play with a member of a police service, and someone gets injured.
“I think there is a difference when you look at policing itself, but when it comes down to accountability and transparency, I don’t think there’s any difference,” Blunden added. “I think we have to all be accountable for our actions on the street.”
With the idea of accountability and public perception of the police, Blunden doesn’t wait for something to happen before talking to members of the WPS. He noted that accountability and transparency with the community, to the best of their ability, has been part of the business plan of the service for the last two years.
“Anytime we have questions asked of us, we answer them as totally as we can,” Blunden explained. “Sometimes we do have to hold back some information but reality is we have a communication plan out there trying to get as much information out to the public as we can. So, waiting for something like this is too late for our members.”
Blunden doesn’t discount the damage that an incident like this has on the profession, though.
“It does affect the reputation of a majority of excellent police officers out there who are unwavering in their commitment to public safety, and you know, I can tell the public out here in our community, in Weyburn that our members are very professional, and we want to be as accountable and transparent as we can.”