WHO is looking for a job where everyone will feel they know more about it than you? Are you a psychologist, a social worker and a marriage counsellor?
Would you be willing to take powerful anti-viral drugs due to the risk of catching a disease? Do you possess secret spidey powers to subdue drug-fuelled individuals without injuring them? Is being spit in the face by countless people OK with you?
Are you fine with having split-second decisions in dangerous situations triple guessed by Monday morning experts? Do you enjoy being told you are a racist because of the uniform you wear?
If you answered yes, then front-line policing is the career for you.
Seventeen years ago people laughed when I said recruitment for police officers would plummet if things did not change. Last week, a news outlet in Boston ran a story about the challenges their police force is facing in recruitment. Google displayed stories about the topic including Thunder Bay. What does that say about a profession that pays in excess of $100,000 a year in three years?
Could it be that certain politicians have handcuffed the profession? Are the non-stop accusations of racism a factor? Could it be that officers are now hesitating, jeopardizing their own safety because they do not want to be the next public target for a social media campaign of anger? Do people realize that these campaigns do not increase public safety they actually increase public risk?
When I ran for a provincial union position 23 years ago, I borrowed a slogan from the Cleveland police union that is even more relevant today: “A society that makes war with its police had better be prepared to make friends with its criminals.”
Police are not perfect and there are some bad officers. No officer worth his or her badge would object to “reasonable” accountability. But contrary to the belief of some, police are not responsible for racism in a community.
Police cannot solve homelessness, substance abuse, poverty, or mental health issues. They cannot change centuries-old federal policies but they often bear the brunt of dealing with those issues. And inevitably, when things go wrong in these scenarios, we get to hear from a few politicians looking to score points, or others wanting to expand their power base.
The officers working the street today face far greater challenges than existed even a decade ago. It is my belief that things will continue to get worse.
Do not listen to those that say this is a money issue. It is not.
It is a willingness issue; the willingness of people to stop sitting on the sidelines and to actually stand up and demand better from those who actually govern policing services. Demand better from your provincial and federal representatives in terms of how police are supported. Demand the necessary structures in social policies to take these issues away from police officers and have them addressed by appropriate professionals.
Fix archaic policies that have marginalized people for decades and stop looking to the police to take the blame for the lack of decisions by those who hold political office.
Police officers did not create the justice system that people complain works against marginalized communities but they are required by law to work within it. Police officers however make handy scapegoats for people who want to avoid accountability or for those looking for more and more political power.
If you want recruitment to improve, then fix some of these issues, and maybe 10 years from now recruitment won’t be such a challenge.
(Originally published March 9, 2020)