When I began my policing career in Calgary 22 years ago, I was trained by those who had policed in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I very distinctly remember my field training officer looking over at me and saying, "Our job is to apprehend criminals."
That stuck with me and it certainly remains a core function of law enforcement officers, however the public expectation and the expectation of ourselves demands more.
Historically, police have done much more than "catch bad guys." We mediate disputes, provide traffic safety, provide licensed premise safety, and assist any number of other agencies; all core functions of the job.
However, our role has evolved in recent years, and we have seized the opportunity to provide more service. Police officers are on the road and in the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, without fail.
As we are present throughout the community, at any given time we are often the first to respond to non-criminal emergencies such as fires, medical calls and people in distress. Officers are equipped and trained to use fire extinguishers, automated external defibrillators, aquatic rescue devices and most recently Naloxone.
The presence of this equipment, and the related training, has prepared officers to respond to emergencies that traditionally we responded to on an ad-hoc basis. Naloxone is carried for officer safety, should there be an exposure to fentanyl or related drug, but to date has only been used to treat those suffering from an overdose.
These practices do not of course preclude the response of our first response partners. Rather, it allows us to act as they respond. Officers recognize this as an opportunity to enhance public safety. Each shift they diligently load their cars, prepare themselves mentally and go out in to the community with the ability to respond to any emergency and act.
Recently, police have seen an increase in the frequency of mental health calls. Often, officers respond to these calls as they are reported as a disturbance, or person in distress. These are sometimes volatile and potentially violent situations. Unfortunately, some incidents do turn violent but the vast majority do not. Officers receive ongoing training in mental health response and de-escalation skills, the service has also created a Police and Crisis Team which includes a police officer and mental health professionals. Officers are becoming experts at recognizing behaviour and identifying it as a person in crisis which years ago may have been considered to be a matter of criminal behaviour.
We have a long way to go as we continue to try to understand the complexity of addiction and mental health and how they are intertwined. Though we join the job to investigate crime and apprehend criminals, I know that officers find satisfaction in contributing to public safety in many other ways. We will continue to change and evolve as does the community.
Born and raised in Medicine Hat, Inspector Joe West started his policing career with the Calgary Police Service in 1995, and joined the Medicine Hat Police Service in 1997. Joe has served a number of roles throughout the Service including Patrols, the Tactical Team, the Organized Crime Section, and most recently the Major Crimes Section. As a member of the executive teal, Joe provides leadership and support to the operational services division, which includes patrols, the Traffic Unit and Municipal Bylaw Enforcement. Beyond the Badge appears monthly on chatnewstoday.ca.