A promotional video produced for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association (RNCA) with the production characteristics of a Hollywood action movie or an army recruitment ad is causing a debate, with some saying the message is too militaristic.

But the RNC chief is defending the video, saying it is intended to get the attention of potential young recruits in a society dominated by social media.

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"It's not meant to be the sole message that is reflective of the RNC," Chief Bill Janes told CBC's On the Go.

Janes said the RNC is looking to hire new recruits, and in order to accomplish this, it needs to capture the attention of young people.

"This gives us an opportunity to show we have a mounted unit, a marine unit, computer forensics, and a lot of other aspects to a career," he said.

Tense music

The video was produced by M5 Marketing Communications Inc. for the RNCA, which represents some 380 police officers with the RNC.

It features tense music as a backdrop for scenes of, among other things, officers in riot gear, carrying assault rifles and dressed in battle gear, running with police dogs and patrolling in a fast-rescue craft.

The video began circulating on the Internet in recent days and at the beginning of movies at local cinemas, and immediately ignited a debate, with some saying it overemphasizes the high intensity, combat-style tactics used in extremely rare cases. 

Others say it serves its purpose as a powerful marketing tool, and dramatically illustrates the resources available to the RNC in order to protect the citizens it serves.

One of those uncomfortable with the video is Liz Solo, an artist and activist in St. John's.

She was so upset by the content that she produced her own video, mixing scenes from the RNCA video with scenes from popular Newfoundland and Labrador tourism ads.

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Liz Solo's RNC/Tourism YouTube video

Solo said she had to find a way to "respond constructively," and decided to intertwine scenes of battle-ready police officers with young children and idyllic landscapes.

She hopes her video will initiate some discussion about the message being presented in the RNC video.

"The video made me feel unwell," said Solo.

Another critic is Peter Walsh, a former CBC journalist and owner of a video production company called Nine Islands Productions and Consulting.

He said almost two-thirds of the scenes are "aggressive," and said he would expect to see something similar from the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Marines.

'They don't attack the community. And that's what I take from this video. They're almost like bullies. It's almost like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.' - Peter Walsh

Walsh described the video as "juvenile" and "off the mark" because it overlooks many of the characteristics that a police officer must bring to the job.

"I think we have come to expect more from our police officers than people who know how to kick butt," he said.

If he were to take on such a project, Walsh said he would have suggested a much different approach, one that emphasized partnerships with the community, and the high degree of intellect and training that often goes into policing.

"I'd show them using their brains more, investigating crime, dealing with victims, displaying an understanding of the complex societal elements that make up criminals and victims."

Walsh believes the video misrepresents the "good cops" in the force, and sends a scary message to some.

"They don't attack the community. And that's what I take from this video. They're almost like bullies," Walsh said. "It's almost like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie."

Tactical unit

Walsh said police officers should be intelligent, analytical, caring, compassionate and knowledgeable, and be prepared to use extreme force only when all else fails.

He questioned why there were no references to how police respond to mental health issues, or an emphasis on being sensitive to the victims of crime.

Chief Janes downplayed the negative reaction to the video, saying there are "20 positive comments and likes for every negative comment."

He also stressed that the RNC is very much involved in schools, with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, with seniors and those with disabilities.

He added there are plans to enhance the force's response capabilities to assist people with mental health issues.

Featured prominently in the video are members of the tactics and rescue unit, which is comprised of two per cent of the overall RNC membership, 

As for concerns the video is too militaristic, Janes said: "It is part of who we are and the services that we can provide to keep the community safe. But it's not meant to be the sole message that's reflective of the RNC."

Receiving complaints

Meanwhile, NDP Justice and Public Safety critic Gerry Rogers said in a news release Tuesday she is getting complaints about the video. 

She said the video portrays the RNC as a menacing, militaristic organization.

Rogers said on Sunday evening she wrote Judy Manning, Minister of Justice and Public Safety, and relayed the concerns she has heard.

“I cannot remember when I have last seen such an intimidating portrayal of our police service. It is essential in a modern just society that citizens are able to trust and reply upon the service of its peace officers," she said.

Rogers said she does not underestimate the dangers faced by officers, but added, “the message in this recruitment video depicting RNC officers armed with semi-automatic weapons and in riot gear hunting down supposed criminals is the antithesis of the image the RNC has been fostering for the past few years.”

Rogers has called on the department of Justice and Public Safety to ask the RNC to stop the distribution of the video, and to formalize a public image strategy for the force.