What is it like to be a police officer? On the one hand, there is this letter by a police officer’s wife (heavily snipped):
I want you to know that I see you. I see you choose the booth in the restaurant that allows you to have your back against the wall. I see you walking to your next traffic stop while you hope that it isn’t your last. … I see your cause and I want you to know that I appreciate it.
I need you. We need you. America needs you. I know that the world isn’t making it any easier for you to wake up with the same passion you had when you first started. I know the world is making it extremely difficult for you to feel like anyone is on your side. I know the world is making you feel like the only allies you have can only be found in each other. I know that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to put your life on the line for a world that has seemingly turned their backs on you.
I wish I knew how to fix it. The only thing I know how to do is support you. I’m aware that there isn’t a magic solution that will make the world see you for who you are; the amazing men and women in blue. I just want you to know that I see you. I need you to know that you are appreciated by a vast majority who is in your corner. I need you to know that you aren’t alone. I need you to feel the presence of those who love and support you. We are rallied behind you and ready to defend your character at any given moment. You are honorable. You are courageous. You are worthy of a nation’s support.
And on the other side, police officer tased teen into coma.
The letter is from the wife of a police officer. I am the son, grandson and husband of police officers. If my eyes were better, I might be one myself -or at least have applied. The two extremes posted above, plus the killing of Sammy Yatim by police officer James Forcillo in Toronto have made me unsure of where I stand.
Background on Yatim. The mentally man stepped onboard a bus and threatened the other passengers with a knife. They were evacuated, police arrived and Yatim was shot by Forcillo:
On August 19, 2013, James Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder. On July 30, 2014, he was also charged with attempted murder. On January 25, 2016, Forcillo was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, but guilty of attempted murder.
At issue in this case was how much of a threat Yatim was. The passengers had been removed, but the man had a knife. How far apart were Yatim and Forcillo? Did Forcillo need to approach Yatim at that time? It appears he, and other officers, could have waited outside the bus.
I’ll return to this in a moment, but I wrote “unsure of where I stand”. That is still unclear, even in what line or side I imagine exist to stand on or in.
There is one more bit of history to include. My own father was investigated for a shooting. This was long ago and I do not know the details. Maybe it is better I don’t. Maybe the question here is, ‘Am I brave enough to learn family history?’
What I think I recall is my father and other officers had a man in a car surrounded. I think he was an escaped convict or possibly a suspect in a violent crime. It was suspected that he was armed. In the course of events (how neutrally I phrase this), the man’s hand dipped out of sight and someone (this is not an evasion – I don’t think anyone knows who it was) fired. At this point, every officer emptied his pistol.
One important point I can add for the education of any readers. To fire less than every bullet in a revolver or automatic gun requires more control than firing two or three. If a person thinks his/her life is at risk, there is no benefit to a halfway measure. The dead don’t get any more dead so firing more shots than needed has no downside. In any case of a killing by firearm, the fact of the killing is important and should be legally actionable, but the bullet count is not important.
This is a key difference between the Ontario Provincial Police (and probably police in all of North America) and at least one police group in South Korea. Here in South Korea, officers are trained (how well, I cannot say) to wound, to aim for a leg or arm.
Back to my father. The killing was ruled justified and aside from nightmares, my father and the other officers received no punishment.
Training now is far different for police officers. in the 1960’s, my father was hired either right out of high school or soon afterwards. Police today are often university degree holders and older hires, late twenties or so, are preferred.
Fifty years ago, a few members from every detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police were sent to Wasaga Beach for a long weekend holiday in May -known as the May two four weekend. They weren’t there to relax but to rein in the motorcycle gangs that converged on the otherwise quiet village. I am too young to recall, but my father would return home bleeding at night on occasion. Who were these bikers to disrespect the law and who were these officers who did not have the confidence to stamp the problem out? For that matter, who were the general public that didn’t give enough support to the police to handle the matter safely for all concerned, especially the police that were wounded in such battle?
I imagine if a similar problem presented itself today, enough force would be found to charge all gang members at the location and people would accept the rationale for the arrests.
Today, police in Canada are armoured more by their badge than their vest or weapons. If a police officer is threatened, the public normally sides with the officer.
They didn’t side with Forcillo and his position was no defence at sentencing.
The mandatory minimum prison sentence for attempted murder with a restricted firearm was never intended to apply to police whose job is to protect the public, a lawyer for a Toronto officer found guilty in the shooting death of a troubled teen argued Thursday.
But the judge who will decide Const. James Forcillo’s sentence for attempted murder said he saw no reason why police officers should be exempt from the minimum of five years behind bars.
“It’s not a licence to kill,” Justice Edward Then said of police-issued guns. “Police officers are entrusted with the use of a gun for a particular purpose. In this case the jury has found that it wasn’t to serve and protect but it was with the purpose of attempting to kill.”
I feel Forcillo’s profession, and it is a profession now, unlike in my father’s day – does earn him special consideration when on trial for actions done while on duty. I am definitely not talking specifically about Forcillo, as I know only some of the details available to the public. Here is my reasoning. In the past, and probably still, killing a police officer who had identified himself as such, was a greater crime than killing someone who wasn’t a police officer. I feel this is fair because police are required to approach danger while others are welcome, even encouraged, to move away from danger. Making the killing of a police officer a more serious crime was a way to protect people who worked to protect us. In the same way, giving the police some greater leeway when they use force seems fair. They aren’t supposed to retreat from danger the way I, for example, am.
I don’t feel the police should get a free ride, should be able to murder with no consequences. But I do feel reduced consequences are reasonable.
Hmmm. I do feel I cleared up at least one point in my own mind. “But the judge who will decide Const. James Forcillo’s sentence for attempted murder said he saw no reason why police officers should be exempt from the minimum of five years behind bars.” He definitely should not be exempt. But the possibility of a lower sentence should be open. If the standard sentence is five to ten years, I feel Forcillo should be looking at three to ten years. He should not be exempt from a long sentence, but his position as a person who could not run away should mean something.
Now, in reading Boingboing, one might come to the conclusion that police already are free of many legal restrictions and punishments we civilians are bound by. That link is to posts tagged with ‘police’ and a few are not relevant but most are. I can only hope they are American poli… Not, I don’t want any police officer or department to be so poorly overseen. For the police to be protected, the public has to have faith in them. I have faith but not quite as much as the wife that wrote the letter excerpted above.
I will finish with this thought. My father was a patient man with me but also an angry man in general. Kind-hearted, generous and friendly, but so often angry. I know what it is like to be a police officer’s son and we heard from the wife of a police officer. I wonder if police themselves are able to talk about such things. How do they stay professional – or what makes their professionalism break down?