Mental Health by Insp. Adam MacNeil

 

True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason1

Inspector Adam MacNeill

Dear Members of the Association,

Bob Ellergodt, President of Calgary Division has drawn our attention to a most signficant article written by Insp. MacNeill on the effect of police misconduct in the United States on police work in Canada.

The article is addressed to the serving members of the Force and it was felt that retired members would also be well-served by Insp. MacNeill’s observations.

Insp MacNeill has most graciously granted permission for us to circulate it to our membership.

James Forrest
Director of Communications
RCMP Veterans’ Association


Colleagues,

I beg your indulgence as you open this message. This may be viewed as another lengthy correspondence from a Commissioned Officer most of you have never met, who serves in a far away place, and is perceived to be detached from the realities you face each and every day. I have no doubt that this message finds many of you exhausted, frustrated, confused, depressed and in some instances enraged. I too have experienced a wide range of emotions in watching events unfold at home and abroad over the last two weeks. As your National Headquarters Mental Health Champion I felt it was absolutely imperative that I reach out to you, even if the message is considered unwelcome by some.

I always try and be inclusive of all categories of employees in my messaging. However, I also ask for your patience and understanding as this message will be written through the lens of a Regular Member (RM) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I cannot escape it. It is who I am at my core and what I’ve done for more then two decades now in the service of all Canadians. No matter their race, creed, colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or socio-economic background. By writing this message through this lens, I hope you realize this in no way diminishes the impact recent events have had on our Public Service Employees or our Civilian Members. I am trying to provide some perspective on how at least one RM views the rapidly unfolding events flashing across our TV screens and cellular phones each night. I also want to give a voice to commonly held concerns and views expressed by employees nationwide and speak plainly about how people may be struggling.

The flashpoint for the current conversation in Canada, North America and indeed the world, was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Let us be clear, this was one of the most public cases of police misconduct and excessive force in recent memory. I don’t know of single person who watched that entire video unfold who wasn’t revolted by it and didn’t cry out for justice. People internal to our organization who have experienced bias, prejudice and racism over the course of their lives were stunned at the blatant disregard for human decency. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that thousands of RM’s across the country were screaming themselves hoarse at the television as they watched a person’s life slip away in real time. In that moment they knew that a life the police were sworn to protect, had been unnecessarily taken and at the same time an entire profession would be deeply damaged for the actions of a few. For those of you who haven’t had a great deal of exposure to front line policing, I feel very confident in saying the following. There is nothing that a good cop hates more than a bad one.

I know that hate is a strong word to use. However, how else can you describe the feeling of watching former members of your profession completely violate the social contract held between the police and the citizenry. If Sir Robert Peel (who is thought to be the father of modern day policing) bore witness to this level of misconduct he too would be suffering the wide range of emotions we are all feeling. In 1829, he wrote “The Principles of Law Enforcement”. They are as relevant today as the moment he set his quill upon that page. It outlined themes which are crucially important to our collective success as we move forward: crime prevention, community trust and engagement, reasonable force as a last resort, impartiality without favour, never being above the law, the police are the public and the public are the police. I have included the most relevant sections below.

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent on public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity to use physical force.
  5. Police seek to preserve public favour not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure the observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warnings is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police at all times, should maintain, a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police.
  8. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

I know as I write this, that thousands upon thousands of you follow these principles every single day without the proper recognition. You go forward into danger, time and time again and all you are left with is the personal satisfaction of having protected the public and your fellow employees. That is certainly cold comfort indeed. Despite having upheld the Core Values of the RCMP and doing your utmost to serve Canadians on the highest level possible, some of you have been spat upon, your cars vandalized, you’ve been berated during calls for service for events which took place in another country and you’ve had to spend endless hours educating your opinionated uncle over Sunday dinners regarding the realities of this profession and how we conduct our daily affairs. It is sometimes thankless. I know many of you are struggling right now with varied and conflicting emotions. Please don’t allow what is transpiring to extinguish your flame for your chosen career or let it wear you down to a point where the service you provide starts to suffer. Look after yourselves and each other. Focus on your sphere of influence and the things which you can impact every day. Continue to deliver the highest calibre of service to Canadians, that is who YOU ARE, at YOUR CORE! To take some creative license with a famous quote from Sir Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing”. In our profession, we know that evil truly does exist and that we are all that stands between good people and the things which go ‘bump in the night’.

Despite our best efforts, no one is sitting here saying that we are perfect. We are human beings and we are all fallible, and our bodies are frail. Our physiology can react strangely under high stress. We sometimes keep replaying these stressors in an endless loop as we try to unsuccessfully sleep, as we try and fix whatever went wrong during a call for service. We have biases and prejudices, we endure vicarious trauma and we can most certainly bleed. Yet the current narrative which is often profligated in the media demands your omnipresent perfection. The expectation that you be a warrior-monk with degrees in social work, psychology, psychiatry, clinical counselling and several other relevant courses of study. A person who is perfect in thought, word and deed in the most hostile of circumstances and is never allowed to have an off day. I am sorry to say that if that is what the public is seeking in us, they simply cannot have it. Those people don’t exist. We have human beings with kind hearts and good ethics who if necessary are willing to fight hard, be uncomfortable and get hurt for people who refuse to recognize their sacrifices. In fact, you can seriously wound good human beings by insisting that they be something they cannot be – the things no one can be. We are willing to take ownership of our own humanity and come to the table to try and improve. However, before that can be done successfully, perhaps those people who cast aspersions upon us will need to come to grips with theirs before that dialogue can begin in earnest.

In conclusion, I wanted to ensure we recognize that this has been an exceptionally difficult time for all employees of the RCMP, for a variety of reasons. If you find your frustration is building turn inwardly toward each other for strength, as you so often are required to do. However, if that weight of what is transpiring becomes a load past bearing, please reach out to the many support services available to you. That is not an easy step to take at the best of times. However, the right decision seldom translates into that being an easy decision. That applies to your mental health or our operational performance at a call for service. I will leave you now with a poem that has brought me great comfort over the years, and I hope it brings some to you in your hour of need. It was a poem read thousands of times by Nelson Mandela during his wrongful 27-year incarceration on Robben Island, South Africa. He emerged from that horrific experience to become a force for change and unity in a society that was fearful and didn’t understand him or his motivations. Perhaps as we emerge together from this difficult time, we can do the same.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

With encouragement and fondest regards,

Adam MacNeill (Insp.)
Officer in Charge – National Tactical Training Section
RCMP National Headquarters Mental Health Champion


1. Alfred North Whitehead


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