Cops are hired to do a rather nasty job for society; a society that bewilderingly feels cops don’t have to get nasty to do their job. Thanks to cell phone video, people are beginning to see more of what officers see everyday. Arrests can look inelegant to the uninitiated but they have to be done.
If a cop tells a bad guy to come along and the reply is “Oh yeah!… make me,” what happens next? If the officer simply told the person nearby holding the camera, “I need assistance arresting this guy. Drop that camera and come hither,” what would the citizen do? More importantly, what must the citizen do?
Rather than police always lending the community a hand why not have the community lend police a hand? For this to happen the community must be willing to help and, most importantly, police must be willing to let them.
In my usual style here’s an anecdote to make my point. A friend of mine was chief of a small town police service. When you are a cop in a two-member service you quickly learn that uniform backup is rarely at hand when things go sideways.
Someone called his house early one morning to report that the front door of the bank had been kicked in. Throwing on dungarees and a police shirt, he ran out the door, shotgun in hand, while his wife called the other officer for help.
Arriving at the scene, the chief saw a little movement inside the broken door but couldn’t tell how many people were inside. He didn’t have a radio or cell phone and, due to the hour, no one else was around to ask for help.
While considering his next step, he was alarmed to hear a pickup truck screaming down the empty main street. His heart raced. Is this the getaway car? The truck screeched to a halt and the chief was relieved to see John, the local barber, scramble from the cab grasping his hunting rifle. They were joined in short order by Cliff the plumber and Reg the hardware store owner.
The chief’s wife had called John when she couldn’t raise the other officer and John called the other two. The four men carefully approached the broken door, weapons at the ready, only to find a young drunk man sleeping inside. It was a very cold night and, given his diminished frontal lobe, this had seemed to him a rational way to escape the frigid temperature.
Cops, courts and lawyers do a good job of informing citizens of their rights. They are not good at, or interested in, telling them about their responsibilities. Cops are not encouraged by training — or popular TV shows and movies — to ask for help. Some rookies have the mind set that they are the Sheriff in town and in control of everything. They can swagger a little and lower their voice an octave or two and the illusion of control and respect is complete. Others find security by dressing for combat. There’s nothing like an exterior flak suit for that look of omnipotence.
After some street time most officers become much more realistic about their place within the big machine – but too often that experience leads to cynicism and the feeling there’s no use asking citizens for help.
I remember watching an officer trying to control a violent drunk and realizing he needed help. He didn’t know me but asked politely if I would help put the drunk in his car, which I was about to do anyway (you can take the man from the job but not the job from the man). I grabbed an arm and struggled to help get him caged. With a simple thanks the officer was into his car and gone. I felt a little better and walked a little lighter that night.
Now, with great trepidation, I quote section 129(b) of the Criminal Code:
Everyone who... omits, without reasonable excuse, to assist a public officer or peace officer in the execution of his duty in arresting a person or in preserving the peace, after having reasonable notice that he is required to do so.... is guilty of (a dual procedure offence).
I am not suggesting that every citizen is capable or equipped to assist in an arrest, nor that officers use this section unless their back is really up against the wall – but it does make it clear that police do not do their jobs in a vacuum.
Citizens do have buy-in and it behooves officers to let them know, from time to time, that their assistance is welcome, appreciated, and yes, even required by law. Moreover, it would be nice to let the community know their duty to assist the police is just as compelling as those rights society has taught them to cherish.