Whether you know a few of them, have one in your family, or are yourself an officer of the law, everyone seems to have an opinion on policing.
In Surrey, the debate mostly surrounds which kind of uniform our police should wear – and how many uniforms we should need. But a broader societal discussion has zeroed in on the effectiveness and importance of policing itself.
Whether you side with the whole “defund the police” movement or not, chances are you have a personal “police story” that may have helped shape your views.
You may have had a bad experience with a traffic cop once or twice or feel you have been treated unfairly by officers in your community. Heck, I’ve even written several columns in this very space over the years about my frustrations involving the men and women in law enforcement.
But when I hear a story critical about police, or share one of my own, I am reminded of an idiom derived from a poem published in 1895. It was originally titled Judge Softly, but was later called Walk a Mile in His Moccasins.
Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.
In effect, it is a reminder to practice empathy. Before criticizing someone, you must understand his or her experiences, challenges and thought processes.
Column continues below.
On May 29, 2020, a man high on meth was dropped off at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal just after 11 p.m. Twenty-five minutes later, he stole a taxi that was parked nearby. He raced it up the causeway and into a parking area four kilometres away.
Coincidentally, a Delta police officer was parked in the same area dealing with an unrelated matter. The speeding taxi nearly hit the cop car and the officer, who was on foot and had to jump out of the way.
The man got out of the stolen taxi and took off. The officer ran after him and called for back-up. Less than a minute later, the officer had the man at gunpoint and was ordering him to drop a knife. The officer deployed his Taser three times, with only one “successful electrical current connection” prior to other cops arriving.
A second officer arrived about three minutes after the “near miss.” Over the next 15 minutes, a total of nine officers showed up.
At one point, the man produced a pipe from his backpack and, with a weapon in each hand, goaded officers to shoot him.
None of the officers shot. But several did “unsuccessfully deploy” their Tasers and some also used 40 mm launchers to shoot the man with “less lethal” projectiles, which had little to no effect.
The man turned the knife on himself and stabbed himself in the neck. The officers administered first aid but the man died.
It’s important here to note that the Independent Investigations Office cleared police of any wrongdoing in the man’s death. But what a horrible tragedy.
“Incidents such as this have a lasting impact on the officers who respond,” Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord said. “People get involved in this line of work to help others, and it’s a tragedy when, despite all our best efforts, sometimes we’re not able to get some people the help they need.”
There a few things you could take away from this terrible story. Some might say the story suggests police do indeed more training if nine officers couldn’t successfully take down one suspect, while others might argue the officers were absolutely trained properly, as they showed restraint.
Others might make the case that police need better energy weapons.
Me? The story reminds me of the kind of people and issues that police deal with on a daily basis – drugs, violence, homelessness, sexual assault. The list goes on and on.
And that was just one story. There must be hundreds, even thousands of tragic, violent near-miss stories that play out in our streets every night while we are comfortable at home with our families.
For most of us, having a bad day involves a few rude customers or a couple of server breakdowns. For the men and women in our police forces, a bad day can mean much, much worse.
To be sure, there is much that needs to improve when it comes to policing – and we may see those improvements very soon. But before you go on a rant about the cranky cop who pulled you over for a broken tail-light, remember what a bad day for him might look like.
Then go fix that tail-light.
Beau Simpson is editor of the Now-Leader. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.