The strength of the RCMP as a superior police force is in its anonymity.
They all wear the same uniform. They all have the same training.
And when one of them does something good, everybody around the world points to those red serge outfits and says, "Aren't they amazing!"
Unfortunately, when one of them does something
stupid, everybody says, "Geez, they're all a bunch of crooked jerks!"
And then, out comes the Musical Ride, and everybody is back onside, with a glow as warm as the colour of the tunics, as solid as those spiffy Stetsons.
For decades - indeed, for more than a century - the RCMP basked in the reputation of the likes of Sam Steele, one of several legendary RCMP (actually, Steele was technically a North-West Mounted Policeman) officers whose bravery and no-nonsense approach to police work spawned Hollywood movies, lovable Disney characters and an international reputation for honesty, integrity and "always getting their man."
While Americans south of the 49th parallel were "taming the West" by shooting and scalping their "red-skinned" enemies, Canada (for the most part, at least) settled disputes by sending in guys like Steele and his fellow officers of the NWMP who garnered respect and admiration from people who had been chased out of their own lands by gun-toting blue-coats and buffalo-hunters - people who suddenly found themselves (or often felt like they were) being treated fairly and reasonably.
Well, that's how the legend goes, anyway.
Or did. Until Robert Dziekanski and the Vancouver International Airport Taser incident.
Suddenly, the whole RCMP force consisted of a bunch of jerks again.
That's the anonymity thing: A couple of cops do something stupid, and every last one of the country's thousands of officers is an idiot.
Time to bring out the Musical Ride again.
Except, somehow the perception of stupidity leaked upstairs, at least partly thanks to some other goings on - to do with pensions and high-level resignations and stuff.
Like many "civilians," over the years I've come to know a number of RCMP officers personally, as well as professionally.
You know what? Most of them (in my experience) are human beings.
I can think of a few who make me (a totally non-military type) proud of the uniform they wear into places like Haiti and Afghanistan to train police forces from the ground up. These are the kinds of men and women who helped build Canada's positive identity in the global eye.
And I've run into a few who should be (and a couple now are) in jail.
Mostly, however, the RCMP officers I've known have been reasonably decent people who have chosen an important and dangerous career path.
They make relatively minor mistakes sometimes, but mostly get through the day doing their jobs as well and as competently as most of the rest of us do ours.
Indeed, most never reach the public eye as individuals, but as anonymous units in the RCMP's ubiqui-tous presence.
And along comes an RCMP cruiser, weaving down the road . and it turns out the officer driving the car is fiddling with her laptop.
And this is after all the rest of us drivers have been denied the privilege
of endangering each others' lives by texting and talking on cellphones or using any electronic devices - like laptops.
And suddenly, every last officer on the force is a jerk again.
Bob Groeneveld is the editor of the Langley Advance, a sister paper to the Royal City Record.