Friday, December 3, 2010

Police, Fire and other misunderstood people

This blog is inspired by, and a tribute to a police officer I chatted with today. There is an officer at the same physio therapy clinic that I attend, and I happened to hear him telling another patient about how he was injured. He had been on a routine traffic stop in the middle of the night, when he was hit by another car. I can't remember all the details, but I believe he broke both legs and a bunch of other things. Countless surgeries and physio later, he remains on the police force, although his days in a cruiser are over.

He happened to end up on the bed beside me today, and my daughter, who had been checking out the clinic's Christmas tree, kept arriving with music notes, treble clefs and other booty that I was concerned she was pulling off the tinsel rather than "finding on the floor" as she claimed. Taking full advantage of a situation, I pointed to the officer and told my daughter that "the gentleman beside us is a police officer, and you will be in trouble if you are taking the tinsel." The physio assistant commented that I was putting the officer on the spot, and I maintained that I was simply taking advantage of a teaching opportunity.

My daughter settled in a corner to colour and the officer asked me how I knew he was a police officer. He was polite but was wary and had an edge in his voice. He was probably going through the perp file in his brain trying to place me. I told him that I had heard him relating how he'd been injured, and then I said the magic words. "I have a lot of respect for you guys." I then explained that I'd been a former customs officer and commented that you have to have done that line of work to really appreciate how hard it is.

We then chatted about shift work, the loony tunes who come out at full moon and spending DRs in court, only to have the accused change their plea to guilty on day 2 of the voir dire. He commented that everyone thinks firefighters are great, and rightly so, but no one ever wants to see a police officer. My comment: "until you need one. Like any professions, the 5% that are rotten ruin things for the 95% who are stellar."

My friend's father was a police officer in Vancouver-original drug squad, original dog squad, original high school liaison. Worked his way up to commissioner. I was taught to respect police officers, and they were someone to go to for help. I've never been on the other side of the law, except for the occasional traffic ticket, so I've never feared the police.  I understand what he was saying, though.

I wrote a weekly crime column when I was first freelancing. I wrote about the speeders, the drunks and the just plain stupid criminals. I got to know some of the officers on the Guelph Police Service and the Wellington OPP. I shook my head at the people who should have been charged with being an idiot, and the hours that were spent on routine patrol in the middle of the night to keep the rest of us safe. Because I've worked in law enforcement in Customs, I've always been fairly pro-cop. What that means as well, is that I have zero tolerance for the bad eggs that make the good ones look bad by association.

The next time you are stopped by a RIDE program, instead of cursing the police officers standing out in the cold freezing to protect us from the idiots who still think it's fine to drink and drive, why not say a prayer for the protection of the officers, and thank them for keeping us safe.(We lost a family friend to a drunk driver when I was kid. She was in a Pinto, and was hit from behind. yep, the Pinto lived up to its reputation. Drunk driver walked away without a scratch. Karen was killed instantly.)  I will never forget the face of the police officer the night I rolled up to the RIDE check and thanked him for keeping us safe. He was so used to abuse that he had no idea what to say in response.The astonished smile was worth it to me.

The officer that inspired this blog is going back to active duty. He'll be manning the front desk to free other officers to go out on patrol.A routine police stop changed his life forever but in true police fashion, he's manning up and dealing with it. I've seem his grimace in pain at physio, and I've seen the scars on his legs from surgeries. I've never heard him complain and he tells his story in a matter-of-fact way. I doubt his family was that matter-of-fact when the accident happened. I wonder if the driver who hit him was.

So here's my shout-out to the police, fire and paramedics who keep us safe. They aren't paid enough to be hit, kicked, punched or puked on in the line of duty. They aren't paid enough to enter burning buildings or to have to tell someone that their loved one has passed away. They aren't paid enough to lug overweight people down icy steps, or 3 story walk-ups. They certainly aren't paid enough to deal with drunks, druggies, kiddy diddlers, wife abusers, con artists who prey on seniors and the other scum of the earth that routinely cross paths with the law. And yet, they do it day after day, night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year. They have to deal with trauma and the very worst of human nature, often at the eventual expense of their own health, sleep and mental state. I remember talking with a police officer in Toronto who had to investigate a child abduction and murder. His child at home was the same age as the victim and he started checking on her multiple times a night He was haunted by the little child who had been brutalized and murdered. I doubt his story is unique.

Thank you to the police officers, the firefighters, the paramedics and other first responders, the ER nurses and doctors, the crisis workers, the family and children's services workers and everyone else who work in the tough professions that keep us safe.Thanks for your dedication, your protection and your help when we need it.  I wish you peace. I wish you safety.  May God bless and protect you.