The other day Mr. Huey and I were out walking our dogs when one of the neighbors shouted over, "We saw you were in the news! Thanks for what you said about the golf courses. My husband really appreciates that."
To be perfectly frank: as is often the case, I have zero idea what I said .... about golf courses. I do know, however, what I said about relying on public police to enforce health code laws and regulations during a public health crisis. It's the same thing I've said in print, on radio and once, to my chagrin, on an afternoon radio call-in show. To sum: BAD IDEA.
I have variously cited contemporary stats on police calls for service and increasing queue lengths, current research on public order policing (check out Ed Maguire's work as a good place to start), as well as historical research into both real or attempted use of law enforcement during previous public health crises such as venereal disease (during WWI and WWII) and the AIDS epidemic. I may have also had much to say about the province's failure to send in social workers and public health officials to deal with ... you know ... a public health crisis (a suggestion that may sound vaguely familiar to some of you).
Leaving aside the fact this has now turned me into the unwitting Golf Queen of Ontario, it demonstrates something else: the clear cut need we have to understand the myriad of impacts that this pandemic can and is having on policing. In the early days of the pandemic, much of our focus was on securing PPE for officers. Others were running around looking for a miraculous cure known as "best practices". But what we didn't really have was any knowledge about what this pandemic would do to policing, including:
- the full extent of additional strains placed on officers who were being asked to deal with the possibility of bringing a deadly virus back to their families
- the emotional and mental impacts of mandatory quarantining following exposures, including those arising from common forms of assault (most notably spitting and biting).
- the problems for frontline officers associated with uneven, fragmented vaccine distribution, including the failure in some provinces to prioritize first line responders
- potential increases in public order policing as a result of various forms of Covid-19 related protests (protests which have turned violent in some countries)
- the possibility that some officers might reject wearing masks or refuse immunization and the potential impacts to themselves and others
- what would happen to calls for service when people began demanding police enforcement of public health violations
- whether policing (from an institutional perspective) learned anything of value for the next pandemic
- the potential and real impacts on police legitimacy of the cynical use of law enforcement as a dumping ground for yet another public health problem.
And ... I'm just getting started. These are all perfectly good research questions that it would be nice to have answers for before ... the next pandemic (or the 18th cycle of this one).
Now you might rightly ask why, we aren't already seeing some Canadian research on these issues being taken up, as is happening to some extent in the U.S. and U.K.. I have the same question. I've certainly tried. However, here's the responses I got from within some policing circles*:
- now that everyone's getting vaccinated, isn't this a moot point?
- cops are sick of surveys**
- this topic isn't important enough, what about something on policing hot spots?
And from some within the academic community:
- well, let's wait and see what happens.
- there's no funding for this
Honestly, it would be much easier some days if I just took up golf.
*I'm going to shout out the CPA, who were highly supportive of doing this work. All others getting shaded, I'll keep to myself.
**This is nothing new. A few years back I let myself get convinced to release an insanely complicated national survey for which we got like 26 responses. #neveragain