This is a fantastic article acknowledging a lot of the work we do day in and day out. The author is honest about how we are doing our job and it’s refreshing. A lot of what we do does make a difference although sometimes that’s easy to lose sight of. Please check out the article in its link. -Xiphos
A few days before Christmas, a 47-year-old homeless woman burned to death in downtown Vancouver when a candle she was using to heat a makeshift shelter set her meagre possessions ablaze.
As reporters probed for details of the story, they inadvertently shed light on something that rarely gets attention: The crucial but largely invisible role police play in public health.
The woman, who was known on the streets as Tracey, had been visited by police three times that evening. Each time, they offered to bring her in from the cold to a shelter and, when she refused their pleadings, stayed around to chat and to offer food and cigarettes. Because officers were worried about Tracey’s safety – but legally unable to forcibly remove her from the streets – they made a point of returning regularly to check up on her.
When her body was discovered, veteran police officers wept. They returned later to the site with flowers; a silent tribute to a woman who died horribly and horribly alone.
When police get media coverage it is usually when they appear to have screwed up: When a man is tasered to death, when a suspect dies in custody, when a riot gets out of hand or when someone wrongfully convicted is exonerated.
Rarely does the banal reality and everyday importance of policing get recognized.
Police have the often thankless task of dealing with every imaginable challenge thrown their way, from helping children cross the street to ensuring that homeless people do not freeze to death on any given night, not to mention dealing with emergency evacuations during natural disasters, picking up the pieces (sometimes literally) after motor vehicle collisions and getting drunken teenagers home safely after breaking up a party.
In other words, police officers are warriors on the front lines of public health; they’re continually involved in prevention, health promotion and education. They do this work 24/7, every day of the year.
Even less appreciated is how public order and safety play an elemental role in our health – individually and collectively. It is no coincidence that in societies where people feel the most secure – able to walk the streets at night, drive on relatively safe roads, feel secure in their homes – they are the healthiest.
Police, as much as health professionals, deal with the sickest of citizens on a routine basis. Police officers (and firefighters) are often the first to arrive when someone suffers a health crisis such as a heart attack. But first aid is the least of their challenges.
The most difficult and thankless work that police do is with those on the margins of society, those whose only crime is being sick – usually with a severe mental illness or addiction.
When a 25-year-old man with untreated bipolar disorder trashes his parents’ home and threatens them with death, the police are the only ones available to help.
When the temperature plunges and the homeless 47-year-old woman refuses to leave her shopping cart to warm up in a shelter, the watchful eye of police is the last line of defence.
When a 32-year-old man who has lost custody of his children stands on the side of a bridge and threatens to jump into the river below, it is the police officer who is there to talk him down.
Occasionally these interactions go sideways, with much media coverage and second-guessing of decisions made in a split second.
Yet these highly publicized “police failures” are the exception. For the most part, police do a remarkable job of dealing with mental, physical and emotional traumas and the social woes they cause.
For all our criticism, officers mete out far more compassion and caring than they do bullets and baton blows.
They deploy it every day as they deal with the tempest-tossed that the rest of society is so quick to turn a blind eye to. And yet we never seem to find a way to say, “Thank you.”