Collecting police paraphernalia is a common practice around the world, and here in Canada there are dozens of Facebook groups where collectors can buy, sell and trade items.
William Roy lives in Edmonton and has been a member of several groups since he started collecting police patches nearly a decade ago, and has since expanded his collection to include other items with the hopes of creating an international policing museum.
“It would be bringing the history of law enforcement from around the world all into one location, something to leave for people to enjoy for generations to come,” said Roy.
But in recent years Roy says he’s had concerns over some of the activity taking place in online collection groups.
“My bigger concerns were some of the more current RCMP patrol uniforms being disposed of on Facebook and the recklessness of how these things are being distributed.”
Roy says there’s everything from RCMP jackets, to badges, to bullet proof vests.
“It’s a public safety issue,” said Roy.
Criminologist at Simon Fraser University in BC, Dr. Rylan Simpson studies the perception of police and says people rely on visual cues like marked vehicles and uniforms to help identify police.
“We’ve historically believed if we’re stopped by someone using what appears to be a police vehicle it must be a police officer. If we see someone wearing a police uniform it must be a police officer, and therefore we obey their commands, trust them and go to them in the time of need,” said Simpson.
And when that doesn’t happen, Simpson says it can be damaging, like what happened in Nova Scotia.
Gunman Gabriel Wortman used a police uniform, and replica RCMP vehicle during his shooting rampage that left 22 people dead. RCMP officials have said the use of these items gave him an advantage over police, and the public.
RCMP declined an interview but in a statement said “the RCMP policy on the management and disposal of uniform and equipment (i.e., kit and clothing) requires that uniform clothing items that are no longer serviceable or required by a member be condemned, destroyed or altered so that they cannot be identified or re-worn as an article of the RCMP uniform.”
RCMP also note that it is a federal offence to impersonate a police officer. However there are no laws prohibiting individuals from actually owning police paraphernalia, and Simpson says changing that would be a challenge.
“You can’t prevent people from sewing clothes, you can’t prevent them from owning certain cars so it’s near impossible to prevent people from making them into police gear,” said Simpson.
Simpson also says that it’s always not a bad thing to collect such items, and there are many legitimate reasons to do so, including for educational or entertainment purposes, but he says it is important that the community works together to prevent items from falling into the wrong hands.
That’s why Roy is calling for further restrictions. While he says that many collectors are legitimate, he worries that items are too easily accessible, and says there is no reason people need to collect current uniform items.
He would like to see police crack down on the buying and selling of police gear, and if it ultimately means he would have to stop collecting items himself, he said that’s something he’s okay with.