Be courteous, firm, fair, neat & careful. Take time to explain.
When I began my career with Metropolitan Toronto Police, I elected to be posted to 4-District Traffic Unit in the old borough of Scarborough. I rode the motorcycle, operated radar, and thanks to a kindly old sergeant, managed to patrol in an accident car years before a typical junior officer would be given that privilege.
After a couple of months of observing everything that was new to me, I began to notice that other officers were being notified for accident court far more often than I. And, because of the nature of shiftwork, a lot of those appearances were off-duty, and well-rewarded with premium pay. Initially, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t going to court as often.
Sometime later, I figured out that as new officer, I wasn’t operating with the same level of confidence as those with more experience, so I carried a copy of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) for quick reference.
In a typical “accident” as we called them back then, it was usually fairly easy to determine who was at fault and who wasn’t. After dealing with the first priorities, like taking care of the injured, or towing vehicles if necessary, I would gather the required information and make notes for the reports. Most often, I would ensure that the not-at-fault driver had all the details they needed and I’d send them on their way. The at-fault driver would remain with me in the car and I would keep them waiting while I continued my reports.
In those days, we all carried a little “set fines” booklet that provided only the wording and set-fine for each offence under the HTA. The full offence descriptions had to be located in the copy of the Act. In every case, I would pull out my copy of the HTA and read the appropriate section, to make sure it fit the circumstances properly. Then I would politely hand the book to the at-fault driver and have them read the section too. It was quite common to observe the driver read the section, put down the book to think, read it again and then volunteer something like, “this looks like what I did.” I would reply with something like, “that’s the way I see it, sir/ma’am.” Later it occurred to me that the people I was charging were pleading guilty once they understood the offence they had committed, hence my lack of court appearances.
Many years later, I attended the FBI National Academy, in Quantico, Va. My roommate was a sergeant from the Jackson (Tennessee) Police Department. I visited him in Jackson in January 1993 and he took me on a tour of his police headquarters, an experience that modified my behaviour for the rest of my career.
In every office, there was a framed statement posted conspicuously on a wall: “Be courteous, firm, fair, neat and careful. Take time to explain.” I realized right away that this was the way I had been leading my own life and career.
I had seen many versions of the “courteous, firm, fair, neat and careful” values, often posted beside a large mirror where officers would see themselves on the way out to their patrol cars. But Jackson cops were also reminded to take an extra step every day by “taking time to explain.”
I know taking time to explain actually does take time, but, over many years of public service, it naturally occurred to me, that a thorough explanation of what has happened, or is about to happen, can promote understanding, reassurance and, quite often, co-operation. I actually adopted the Jackson PD maxim for myself and incorporated it into my everyday messaging and routine.
Every good police officer, or public servant, knows, or should know, the value of being courteous, firm, fair, neat and careful, and adding “take time to explain” to their commitment is definitely worth doing.
Michael Sale served 30 years with the (Metropolitan) Toronto Police and retired as an inspector in 2002. As a life member of the Ontario, Canadian and International Associations of Chiefs of Police, he continues to interact with police officers in his current role as an outreach coordinator with American Military University.
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