By Kate Cantin
“Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” It may sound like a cliché, but the reason the saying has been around so long is probably because it’s accurate.
Before the holidays, I went out on the road for a couple of night shifts. One of the primary functions of my position is to provide the public with insight into the types of calls and situations our officers are responding to on a daily basis. For me, ride-alongs are great ways to see those calls and situations first hand.
During the first of two night shift ride-alongs, I was paired with one of our female officers. While we drove, we chatted about our families, our dogs, and Christmas preparations – everyday things that many people have in common. However, she also talked about policing, and nonchalantly told me that because she is a female officer, the women she deals with often become assaultive and challenging. While most of us do have work stressors, the risk of being assaulted is part of her everyday reality. One thing that struck me about this officer is that she is not fazed by anything. We responded to several calls regarding unwanted persons (a female that would not leave another’s residence and two males consuming alcohol inside a church.) Both times she got out of the car, approached the individuals with confidence, inquired about the issue, and encouraged the involved parties to move along. Everyone complied with her requests. Both times I was trailing behind, still thinking about the fact that being assaulted is part of her everyday reality. Although I felt completely safe with my officers, the unpredictability of the people police deal with was always in the back of my mind.
As soon as I got into the vehicle with my second officer, I could tell he is extremely committed and proud of the work he does. He took the time to explain the function of every button and had me use the radio to call in to dispatch. When going through the motions of his routine tasks, he took time to explain the reasons for his actions. I can tell this officer is someone who likes what he does, and who is extremely genuine in his concern for the community.
While conducting a traffic stop, a call came over the radio regarding a disturbance at a residence involving a male who was wanted by police. The individual involved was known to be assaultive and often attempts to flee from police. Making a judgment call, my officer abandoned the traffic stop and we proceeded to the residence. When we arrived, there was a lot of noise and yelling from the residence. Officers proceeded inside, but I made my own judgment call and decided to wait outside. I could tell a struggle was happening and eventually officers emerged with two people under arrest. As officers expected, the individual in question attempted to flee and resisted arrest when police located him in the residence. At the same time, an altercation occurred between two females in the same house. When all was said and done, when the ‘booking-in’ process was complete, we got back into the car, and took another call. And so it went, for the remainder of the evening – my officer going through a routine shift, and me, wide-eyed and unsure about what was around the next corner.
Throughout the ride-alongs, I often expressed my disbelief to the officers about the people and situations they deal with every day. My eyes were wide for probably 80% of the time, my reactions often met with grins and chuckles while I continued to learn about this whole other world that exists late at night while most of the city sleeps.
Even though public education is extremely important in understanding police roles and responsibility, the reality is that it’s impossible to fully educate the general public about policing. Unless you are a police officer, there’s no way to completely understand. My ride-along experiences, although eye- opening, are merely scraping the surface of what our officers experience in their day-to-day jobs. Although I work for the Timmins Police Service on a daily basis, I am not a police officer, I am not out on the road, and I will never comprehend, nor make judgments about what police officers do, or the decisions they make.
What really struck me during this round of ride-alongs is that regardless of what’s happening in the media, or who’s writing or stating negative things about police, regardless of whether people like them or hate them, whether they’re exhausted, frustrated, or are having personal issues at home, they keep going. They keep responding to these often intense calls with everything they have, because they know as well as we do that when we are in trouble, they are the ones who will be coming to help. They keep going, knowing that at any given time, they could be yelled at, hit, punched, spit on, stabbed, or shot at. Most professions don’t involve going to work every day with the hope that you will get to see your family at the end of your shift. People will say that potential violence is part of the job, and a part they are aware of going in – but it’s also a part that few civilians will ever get to see first-hand. It’s a part of the job for which, in my opinion, officers receive far too little credit.
While “walk a mile in their shoes” may be a cliché, it had stood the test of time because it’s very true. Unless you have walked up to a vehicle on a traffic stop without knowing who is driving, if they are violent, or if they have a weapon, unless you have responded to a fatal motor vehicle collision or a suicide, had to tell a parent their child has died, or been called names repeatedly for simply doing your job, unless you face these realities every day when you go to work, the judgments, criticisms, and negative comments about police officers will always be misinformed.
– Kate Cantin is the Corporate Communications Coordinator for the Timmins Police Service.