From Where I Sit – Society’s Shell Game

The Edmonton Police Service is used to criticism. Scandal after scandal, internal inquiry after internal inquiry, chief after chief, the criticism continues. It is no simple matter, this business of modern day policing. A sampling of letters to the editor, man in the street interviews, and venting submissions reveals almost as many takes on this issue as there are people offering opinions.

In my own experience as a Fee Justice of the Peace in rural Alberta since 1978, I’ve seen a host of RCMP officers come and go through this small detachment. Rural policing has its own distinct challenges: isolation and lack of timely backup, lack of specialization, huge geographic areas to cover, unreasonable on-call demands, and lack of anonymity in the community (when are you truly off-duty?). In addition are those aspects of the job common to police officers everywhere: too much paperwork, disappointment with judicial decisions, community criticism and lack of understanding, appreciation and support for the difficulty of the job. Without exception I believe each of them was doing their job to the best of their ability with the right motivation and the right intentions. Of course I gravitated to some more than others, liked some more than others, and respected some more than others.

It’s a little bit like the military. I wouldn’t want my husband or children to be serving in Afghanistan but I’m forever grateful that some men and women choose to–for my sake, for all of us. That same sense of gratitude extends to police officers, fire fighters, paramedics?heroes all.

Yes, there are probably members who shouldn’t don the uniform because they bring discredit to the profession. There’s a specific Edmonton Police Service member whose name keeps resurfacing in negative stories. Bad apple? Surely that doesn’t negate the good work of thousands.

The most recent criticism of the Service stems from the alleged dumping in north Edmonton of a vanload of intoxicated aboriginals. Is it standard practice? Was it justified? Was it the most expeditious way of dealing with a chronic, no-win problem? Are the police a handy whipping boy for growing frustration with our society? Do the critics have the facts or is it a case of attack first, ask later? Are we expecting miracles from an agency that’s underfunded, understaffed, and overtaxed? Are the homeless, the disadvantaged, the marginalized the subject of a shell game, being shuffled from agency to agency, shelter to shelter, cell to cell, temporarily out-of-sight, out-of-mind? Is Edmonton unique in these challenges?

Apparently not. A February 10 story in the Los Angeles Times covered the issue of a hospital in that city “dumping homeless patients” (1). Can you imagine a society where a hospital van would dump a paraplegic man on skid row “who wore a soiled hospital gown and had a broken colostomy bag” (1)? This is not a tragic isolated incident. More than a dozen hospitals and outside police agencies have been accused of dumping patients and criminals in the downtown area.

I don’t have the answers but I do know attacking the police, themselves a victim in society’s shell game, is counterproductive. The answer is bigger than them, from where I sit.

(1) Los Angeles Times (2007). “Hospital’s account of ‘dumping’ case disputed.” Retrieved April 4, 2007, from http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-dumping10feb10,0,7983871.story?coll=la-home-headlines

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