Rightly or wrongly, police come in for a lot of criticism. Everybody expects them to be perfect — according to widely variable notions of perfection. Nobody wants to see them when things are going well and they cannot come fast enough when things go wrong.
Police sometimes tend to clannishness, often because only their peers really ‘get’ the circumstances of their work. They see people at their worst, clean-up the messes, take a lot of flak… and sometimes deserve it.
However, not enough people mark those moments of tact, grace and dignity that police bring to the job; yet these occur far more often than not.
I lived far from the city where my Mother slid down the path of Alzheimer’s; and my long-suffering sister bore most of the burdens that came with it. For quite a while, Mother was something of an escape artist and would go walkabouts from her care facility. What was remarkable was the speed with which police would respond to each incident, and the gentle tact they used whenever they found her.
There is a similar facility in my own neighbourhood and I have learned to recognize when my local police force is dealing with a straying Alzheimer’s or Dementia patient. Whenever I offer to help in those first critical minutes, their response is sometimes accepting and sometimes not, but is always gracious and polite.
The police in any major city must deal with thousands of encounters with violent and disturbed individuals every year. Failures are always front-page news. Again, I live within a couple of hundred metres of two major hospitals, and episodes with violent and disturbed individuals are not novel to me… and yet I have never seen my police handle them with anything but firm and diplomatic calmness.
Soldiers and police tend – for similar reasons – to share a cynical and often perverse sense of humor. It may be a coping mechanism. Yet there was little sign of it when my city’s police scooped a knife-armed suicidal acquaintance off a 31st floor balcony with adroit skill, nor has there been any mention of it among some young women who were sexual assault victims. Their experience of our police was one of compassion and dignity.
Police are people and my own broad experiences with them have included meeting admirable human beings, mere professionals, and a few jerks in the same sort of proportions one can expect everywhere. Moreover, as stated earlier, the failings of police become public knowledge while the high standards they must bring to the job are seldom appreciated — but they are not entirely unappreciated.