Editorial: Spending a night in a cruiser gives new perspective on policing

Like many people I’m never thrilled to see the police drive by, less thrilled to be pulled over by them, and never thankful if I’m handed a ticket. It is easy to have distaste for the authority police wield. On some level I suppose the police are the embodiment of all that authority we had to respond to as youth and are one of the few who possess that authority over us as adults.

For the past nine weeks I have been part of the Morinville Citizen’s Academy. During that time, I, and about two dozen other area residents have had the opportunity to see policing from the inside. Make no mistake – this was no kindergarten field trip. We’ve been given a pretty wide open look at a lot of stuff. Some of that information we’ve disclosed in articles, but some of the info on dealing with impaired drivers I’ve kept my mouth shut about because I do not want to give drunks more ammo in their arsenal of weaseling out of their wrong doing.

As a class we have learned about how drugs get into prison and how weapons can be made out of some pretty common stuff that would impress MacGyver. We’ve seen just how high tech counterfeiters and debit card fraudsters have gotten, and we’ve seen how forensics in the real world is markedly different from what is seen on television. We’ve seen depressing and alarming statistics about domestic violence in Alberta, and we’ve heard from the many local organizations that assist police in what they do.

But while all of those sessions have been informative, nothing has been as eye opening as our opportunity to ride along as a civilian observer with an RCMP member.

When I’ve been pulled over for speeding, and that has not been in a couple decades, I knew what I was in for. A guy or gal with a badge was going to give me a ticket or let me off the hook with a warning. A lot of that depended on my attitude and I’d use that knowledge to full effect. But sitting in the front of a patrol car on a Friday night watching an RCMP officer make that long walk to a speeding vehicle changed my perspective. Other than knowing a few details after running the plate number, the officer does not know what he is going to encounter at the driver’s window.

Being out there on the highway or on a dark, isolated side road alone is a dangerous proposition, even if you are armed with a couple weapons and plenty of training on how to use them. When that speeding driver is wanted on warrants and has to be arrested, a new level of the game is unfolded. Will the person resist arrest or come along peacefully? Fortunately, the person I got to see cuffed and put in the back of the cruiser was a little quicker to cooperate than he was to slow down when caught speeding.

Hopefully that level of cooperation occurs when our police have to break up parties where a small party has resulted in 100 or more young people assembling on a location because Twitter, Facebook and text messaging have made an intimate gathering an unruly mob. Seeing police deal with a relatively agreeable group of 40 young people at a house party during my ride along allowed me to see just how difficult that can be.

The civilian ride along opened my eyes to a lot about the challenges police have in dealing in matters. But the biggest eye opener was the reaffirmation that police are our neighbours, figuratively or literally. These are men and women who have chosen a profession that may not be as respected as perhaps it should, but they are men and women who have the same concerns and cares that we all do. It might do us all a bit of good to remember that, particularly the next time one of them pulls you over.

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