The recent high profile trial of Toronto police officer Const. James Forcillo was a controversial affair, especially regarding the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. On Jan. 25, 2016 Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder for the 2013 shooting of Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar. The jury found Forcillo not guilty of the two other charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The charge of attempted murder has a mandatory minimum sentence of four to five years. Forcillo is now on bail awaiting sentencing. According to Christie Blatchford of The National Post, this may be seen as a compromise. Be that as it may, compromise or not, there should be no special terms for police officers. The mandatory minimum sentences must prevail.
According to the RCMP website, the role of a police officer means, “enforcing the law and investigating crime. Police officers play an important role in ensuring the safety and security of those in the community they serve.” Having so much responsibility on one’s shoulder, and being in a position to react quickly in life-threatening situations, can put a police officer in a tough place.
With regard to this, people may have only positive experiences with law enforcement professionals. In the same way, these citizens respect, trust and rely on those wearing the badge. They argue police officers are to be trusted as they are gatekeepers for society’s protection and order.
When an officer breaks the law, they are not living up to the high standard society expects of them. There are rules and regulations police officers need to follow while on duty. Such as keeping the peace, preventing crime and protecting life and property in accordance with the Police Services Act. – sec.42 (1). If these procedures are not followed properly, the officer must answer for the crime(s) committed.
According to the Law Enforcement Agency Resource Network, many regulations in the Forcillo case were not followed. Forcillo did not abide by officer safety regulations, such as verbal identifiers and conflict defusing techniques. Therefore, Constable Forcillo did not live up to the expected standards.
Those arguing for a reduced sentence may cite the Criminal Code of Canada. Even though the code states, “everyone who commits an offence… is guilty of an offence punishable on a summary conviction,” the code exempts police officers of guilt if the crime committed was in the execution of the officer’s duties.
Although the killing of Sammy Yatim seems clear cut, the prosecution thought of every scenario when they charged Forcillo with multiple offences. Despite the jury acquitting the officer of second-degree murder and manslaughter, the jury did find him guilty of the third charge of attempted murder. More importantly, the victim, Sammy Yatim, was already dead on the floor of the streetcar. He posed no threat to the police officers on the street. Forcillo was not using his gun to serve or protect any member of the public at the time. Consequently, a punishment reflecting such a crime must be applied.
Supporters of reduced sentences for the police may reference the fact that officers are civil servants. They are government workers protecting and serving the public. These supporters may rationalize a reduced sentence by arguing such a position merits leeway. They believe there should be flexibility in punishing an officer for actions committed on duty because they are civil servants.
The reality is police officers are civil servants, and as such, the taxpayers pay their salaries. This warrants direct accountability to taxpayers. If a police officer is seen to receive a reduced sentence for a crime, the accountability is lost and so is the respect for the law and its enforcers.
Police officers are under more scrutiny as incidents such as this continue to come to light. Not only because of the use of CCTV cameras on the streets, but also because of the ubiquitous use of cell phones by the general public who can record and upload video and photographs immediately to the media. Those who carry the badge must not be above the law, and their sentences should reflect that. Law enforcers must be held to a higher standard because of their role in protecting society. Officers like Forcillo are civil servants, and must be held accountable to the general public for any crime committed, while on duty or not. If Sammy Yatim was your friend, or your child, you would demand nothing less.