The Police Officer’s Plight: The Intersection of Policing and the Law


  • Kevin Cyr



The article examines the interaction and tension between the attitudes of the police and the courts in the context of the criminal justice system. Canadian laws governing the authority of the police are argued to be generally permissive but lacking in clear and specific definition. Because of this, their application may be highly subjective which causes problems when the police and the courts have different expectations for the role of the police. Police generally adopt a crime control approach in their investigative processes while courts tend to use a due process approach in trials. The article examines the factors within law enforcement, as well as broader societal elements, which lead to police adopting a crime control approach. Also examined are behavioural and situational elements that influence police officers’ decisions, particularly when they work from a presumption of guilt. This approach often conflicts with the legal presumption of innocent until proven guilty that is required in the trial process. This creates tensions, especially when police are required to explain their decisions and actions in the course of a trial. The article argues that the lack of clarity in the laws of police authority has resulted in police officers defaulting to a crime control approach, since it matches their view of their role in society. It conflicts, however, with the courts’ assumptions of what police behaviour should be, which leads to tension between the two institutions.