Monday, November 13, 2006

Our Other Heroes

The response to my wife's essay yesterday was overwhelming - several people even said they were moved to tears. Today I am sending another tribute. Every year, standing alongside our veterans, you will find members of the RCMP. My wife, Barbara, has written a piece about law enforcement officers that is appropriate.

Our Other Heroes

Most of us understand and acknowledge, at least intellectually, the stress of being a soldier - whether as a Peacekeeper or in combat. But so very few are aware of the stress of being a law enforcement officer - this despite the fact that experts have identified law enforcement as "one of the most stressful occupations in the world".

As the proud mother of a member of the RCMP, I am so sick and tired of listening to people complain about the "cops" lurking around every corner ready to pounce on innocent motorists to give them a ticket "just to fill their quota". I'm tired of friends and acquaintances who are so quick to point out every police car they see at Tim Horton's. I no longer bother trying to explain that these men and women work 10-12 hour shifts (sometimes longer) and these few minutes they spend at Tim's might just be the only chance they had that shift to grab a coffee to keep them going.

I don't bother anymore to tell them of the morning my son came home while I was visiting and paced the floor for hours because he had spent that night's shift at the hospital with a seven year old child who had been sexually assaulted, or the time he arrived at an accident scene and tried to give CPR to a woman whose face was so mutilated he couldn't find her mouth. I don't bother to tell them that in less than four years on the force he's been to the hospital three times - the time someone threw a brick through his cruiser's window and covered him in shattered glass; or the time he was assaulted during a call to a domestic dispute. I don't even bother to tell them of the time he and his partner were injured in a car accident on their way to assist a fellow officer. They weren't injured because he was an inept driver - they were injured because some vandals had removed the warning signs off an upcoming dangerous curve on a dark rural road. Neither do I bother anymore to tell them that he's been cursed at and spat upon - not only by criminals but also by the "upstanding" citizens he protects from them.

Recently I read a report on the stress and trauma experienced by those who police our country. Written prior to the murder of the four RCMP members in Alberta, it reported 117 Canadian police officers murdered between 1962-2001 (this does not include those others killed on duty in highway and other duty related accidents). The report went on to say that assaults on police officers in Canada is high and escalating at an alarming rate.

Not only are law enforcement officers often in danger of assault or worse by criminals, they face the risk of high speed accidents and car chases; exposure to blood borne diseases such as TB, hepatitis B and C and HIV; and exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes in arson cases and illegal drug labs.

In addition to the physical risks, our police officers witness firsthand the horrors of horrendous accident scenes, assaults, rapes, murders, suicides, domestic violence and child abuse - horrors they can only share with their fellow officers. They are understaffed, overworked, undervalued, constantly under public and media scrutiny, and often disrespected by the people they serve. And yet, they faithfully do their duty! They continue to "protect and serve" with dignity, professionalism and pride. Can you really begrudge them a coffee break? So the next time you see a law enforcement officer at Tim's, don't be so quick to judge! Instead, buy him or her a coffee and say "Thank you!"

Here's a link to a short video I created showing RCMP members on Remembrance Day Parades.

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