Today in the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof wrote that the Ontario Ombudsman's comments about the police reaction to last weeks video of a violent arrest were out of line. However, it is Mr. Skof who misses the mark and upon examination his argument draws little water. The Ombudsman is correct: lose lips sink ships.
On to Mr. Scof response. He first says:
"It is always tempting to render instant opinions on events even though only a fragment of the circumstances of volatile situations may have been recorded."
Unfortunately Mr. Scof's initial objection to the Ombudsman's comments misses the point and displays a lack of objectivity. It is perfectly appropriate to voice an opinion on videos such as this one or the G20 video of police beating protestor Adam Nobody.
As I wrote last week the Ottawa Market video should cause concern. At the very least there is enough context to raise serious questions and merit investigation.
Mr. Scof also says:
"[W]e were astonished that, based on such little evidence, Marin would conclude that the “Ottawa police’s ship is sitting right beside the Titanic on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.” Likening the efforts of the police to maintain the peace in Ottawa’s entertainment district in the evening to the sinking of the Titanic is inappropriate and insulting. This is not an isolated example of Marin’s propensity to rush to judgment on matters involving police. "
Mr. Skof miss-characterizes the Ombudsman's comments. He was not likening the efforts of the police to maintain the peace in Ottawa’s entertainment district in the evening to the sinking of the Titanic. His comments were that lose lips sink ships. This comment was obviously in relation to senior Ottawa police officers defending and justifying the actions captured on the video before there had been a complete investigation.
According to the Ottawa Citizen the Ombudsman actually said:
"Loose lips sink ships,” Marin said. “Ottawa police’s ship is sitting right beside the Titanic on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean right now.
“I think the officer under investigation right now deserves to be investigated properly.”
Clearly these comments relate to lose lips compromising the investigation and actions of senior officers jeopardizing the investigation.
Mr. Skof unfairly recasts these comments to play the victim. This is not about, as Skof says, "efforts of the police to maintain the peace in Ottawa’s entertainment district in the evening." This is about taking a violent arrest to which there can be legitimate concern seriously and making sure any investigation is not contaminated.
Mr. Skof then resorts to a classic appeal to authority: The Ombudsman is not a police officer and could never know what it is like to be a police officer so he should not or cannot provide comment This argument does not assist Mr. Skof in making his point - it only serves to expose logic fallacy and the weakness of his argument.
Mr. Skof then suggests that the violence in the arrest was appropriate:
"As the officers were intervening to subdue the person using the weapon, one officer was assaulted by a bystander. In this instant the nature of the response changed from one violent person to two or potentially more violent people. In the circumstances, being surrounded by bar patrons near closing time, the officer’s choice of force was highly appropriate and resulted in fulfilling the primary mission assigned to those officers."
At the time the officer repeatedly struck the individual there were three officer on top of one grounded civilian. Why, as Mr. Skof suggests was the officer use of force appropriate, because the officer was punched, because there had been previous violence. because the situation was stressful? These are not reasons for the violence on the video.
Mr. Skof demonstrates why the Ombudsman made the comments he did. There has been a rush to justify the police action (as Mr. Skof does in his response). The point is there should not be a concerted effort to justify the violence, especially not by senior officers and at the very least not prior to a proper investigation.
Mr. Skof's reactionary justification in the days after the incident was unfortunate. It is more unfortunate that he is now playing the victim and miscasting the Ombudsman's comments. This matter is serious. The Ombudsman is right, any comments from senior officers risk jeopardizing an investigation.
Lose lips do indeed sink ships but perhaps that is the goal.