A laptop and a firearm. Tools of the trade. A car with which to respond to citizen concerns. Maybe a false alarm. Perhaps a crisis. Police officers cannot be certain what awaits at the other end of a dispatch radio call. Police officers cannot be certain what awaits following what appears to be a routine traffic stop. Police officers cannot be certain what awaits around the next corner.
A cop’s life is one of stress even when nothing particularly stressful is directly taking place.
For most of us a stressful on-the-job moment may be signalled by the ‘ding’ warning of a management email. For a police officer it may be being first-on-the-scene at a fatal collision. We return our day to routine by responding to questions from that management email. The cop? I don’t have any idea how he or she returns to what passes for routine after witnessing death.
Recently, police, mostly in the United States, have been subjected to accusations of racism and gratuitous violence. This, the aftermath of two Grand Juries deciding not to criminally indict officers for their direct involvement in the deaths of two citizens. Two African American citizens.
I’m not writing this column to denounce those Grand Juries. Nor am I writing this column to absolve police for the times they are determined to have crossed the line from community protection to abusers of powers granted and responsibilities defined. I am writing this column to remind that whether you appreciate police or not, being a police officer is a hell of a tough job.
It’s not about a cop blowing of his or her bad morning by making yours worse with a speeding ticket (and yes, I believe quotas exist, but that’s not the individual officer’s doing). It’s not about turning a cruiser into a menacing threat. Call 911 and police officers will set aside concerns for their families and focus on the challenges faced by yours.
Over my years as a broadcaster I particularly got to know many members of the Hamilton Police Service. Some became friends like former Chiefs Ken Robertson and Brian Mullan and Constables Mike Joy and Patrick Keller. Chiefs Robertson and Mullan rose through the ranks of the Hamilton police to lead the force.
I emceed Chief Robertson’s retirement dinner and that night reminded everyone of how Ken Robertson expected his officers to act in public. The Chief had told me by way of conversation that his officers knew the Chief’s expectation of them was that each time they stopped and/or quizzed a citizen that citizen must be treated as though he or she were a member of the officer’s direct family. Fail and it meant a date in Chief Robertson’s office.
A few weeks ago an ugly chant was heard from marchers in the streets of New York City. “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” Shortly thereafter two officers were assassinated in their cruiser. In one case, a wife, mother and two young sons were robbed of a father they so publicly loved. In the other, a bride of only a few months was forced to carry with her for the rest of her life the murder of her husband. One of the officers was studying to be a pastor at his church, the other preparing to start a family.
The chanters in the streets got what they wanted.
Sometimes I wonder why anyone would want to shoulder the challenge of being a police officer.
By: Roy Green