Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An exemplary police officer

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

As a rule, I do not recount my personal experiences in a column, but I am making an exception for today to relate an incident that I think deserves public attention.On Saturday afternoon, I headed off on my bicycle to our neighbourhood grocery store near the corner of Oxford and Richmond. As I was passing through the store’s parking lot, someone lurking in the shadows near a telephone booth suddenly let out a loud yowl.

Sooner or later, anyone who regularly commutes on a bicycle is bound to be shouted at in this way, usually by some facetious punk in the passenger seat of an overtaking car. It’s best just to ignore such demented behaviour. On this occasion, I rode on to the store’s bicycle stand, locked my bike and went into the store to buy some groceries.

As I came out of the store a few minutes later, I saw a police car drive into the parking lot. A young female officer emerged, put on some gloves and walked slowly toward an obviously deranged young man, who seemed to be either high on drugs or suffering from a severe mental illness.The man was dishevelled, shirtless, appeared to be in robust physical condition and was wearing pants that sagged halfway down his buttocks. As the officer approached, he shouted something incomprehensible at her and began to walk away toward an alley that runs behind the store.This situation did not look at all reassuring for the officer so I quickly unlocked my bicycle and headed off after the pair. By the time I caught up to them, the man was walking north on Richmond street with the officer calmly following about five metres behind.I saw the officer whisper into her radio and assumed she was giving directions to a backup. She then spoke out loud to the man. I, of course, was not taking notes at the time, but the gist of the conversation went something like this:Officer: “Look, I just want to talk to you.” The man glared over his shoulder and hurled abuse back at the officer. She did not respond in kind; she did not threaten to place him under arrest. She simply followed him in silence as they continued up the street.A few moments later, the officer rejoined: “You need help. I can get you to a shelter. I can make sure you are cared for.” Suddenly, the man stopped, whirled around and with a berserk expression, screamed at the officer: “I do not need your help. Go away.”The officer was unmoved. She did not flinch. She stood her ground and watched in silence as the man turned about again and resumed walking away.At this point, I wanted to let the officer know that she was not coping entirely alone with this potentially violent psychotic, but at the same time, I did not wish to interfere with her admirable attempts to calm him down. So I picked up speed on the street until I was parallel to the officer on the sidewalk, and as soon as I was sure that she had seen me, I slowed down without saying a word and resumed following a few metres behind her.
Within half a minute, a paddy wagon with lights flashing, but no siren, drove slowly and silently past me, proceeded about 20 metres up the street and stopped. A burly young officer got out and walked back toward the man, who had turned around and was again berating the first officer.Seeing that the police now had the situation well in hand, I started to accelerate away from the scene. As I was leaving, I heard the first officer say: “Thank you, sir.” I waved and headed home, thinking, “Thank God for that fine officer; and for all the exemplary officers like her.”

All too often, the lot of the police is truly not a happy one. They come in for a lot of gratuitous abuse. They daily risk their lives on our behalf. But at least they can be sure that law-abiding citizens are profoundly grateful for all the good work that they do to serve and protect us.

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