Cops are always an easy target. Figuratively speaking, of course. And Lord knows, a fair amount of the critical shots delivered by a variety of societal marksmen towards police are perfectly legitimate.
Even apologists for the cops would have to concede that a police force, here in Newfoundland or anywhere else for that matter, attracts and hires the odd bad apples, deeply flawed individuals who manage to sneak by even the strictest of vetting procedures. (I guess you could say just about any profession manages to hire shameful individuals, including journalism, where the names of Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin might come to mind.)
And there are guaranteed to be cops who do not have the necessary neurons to carry out their jobs in the way in which they should (again, as you‚Äôd find in any profession); just this past week, a provincial court judge chastised, with all kinds of justification, a cop for nearly blowing the investigation of a brutal beating on George Street.
There are other reasons, of course, for many of us to have a go at the cops, perhaps because of an unpleasant experience or two. There are, for instance, scattered over-zealous cops anxious to fill a ticket quota (and, yes, I know, the police hierarchy will always deny that such quotas exist, officially or otherwise).
You know who I‚Äôm talking about: those cops who position themselves in an area with a ridiculously low speed limit, one virtually impossible to maintain. (That four-lane section of Torbay Road near Stavanger Drive that has a 50 kilometre-an-hour limit is a prime spot for lazy cops to easily nail unsuspecting drivers, not nearly as difficult as it might be, for example, to patrol the Outer Ring Road or the Trans-
So, for a whole bunch of diverse reasons, the cops seem to be constantly on the receiving end of shots here and there; I admit I‚Äôve taken the odd one myself, am taking a couple here in this piece today, in fact. (Perhaps forgetting all too easily the odd break I got from the gendarmes during my wild colonial boy years).
In any case, so to speak, I think it‚Äôs time to give credit where credit is due.
It seems to me that a fair amount of enlightenment has entered the once foggy world of Newfoundland Constabulary operations in relatively recent years.
Communication, for example, has obviously become a priority. Gone are the days (which I can vividly recall) when obtaining basic facts from the cops was akin to pulling a molar or two. They treated the media types as if we were the enemy and rarely thought of us
as representing a public which deserved to have as much information about police and legal matters as it could practically and legally be given.
Young reporters with access to a police spokesperson at just about every crime scene, minor and major, probably don‚Äôt even realize the profound change in attitude and approach that has taken place over the years.
And cops like the present Constabulary chief, Bob Johnston, personify a philosophy of police taking an active and high profile in the community.
When the citizenry needs reassurance about its safety, Johnston, or one of his top officers, are invariably before the microphones and cameras. And that‚Äôs a good thing. This past week, Johnston appeared at a press conference called to address bullying.
I‚Äôd like to think his appearance was more than just a public relations exercise, that it reflected a tangible interest on the part of the cops to do whatever they could to reduce the hideous actions of bullies.
Also on Johnston‚Äôs watch, there are concrete efforts being made to deal with the shocking amount of domestic violence taking place under our very noses, in our very own neighbourhoods.
So we should applaud the decision by the Constabulary to establish a full-time domestic abuse officer, Suzanne FitzGerald, charged with keeping what The Telegram described in a story on the appointment as a ‚Äúclose eye‚ÄĚ on 50 cases in the province that have the potential to end in tragedy.
Cynics might say it‚Äôs about time. And, sure, it is about time. But better late than never (an expression that has ironic overtones when you realize just how many cases there have been where the response by police to chilling warning signs was too late to avoid a murder or an assault).
I was drawn, as FitzGerald must have been last week, to the case of a man who was convicted of threatening to kill his ex-wife and beating up his girlfriend (and having violent confrontations with Constabulary officers along the way). It was a graphic illustration, on a couple of levels, of how frustrating it must be for cops to deal with domestic violence.
The sentence was a disgustingly minor amount of prison time, 10 months, hardly a message of deterrence to men (thugs) prone to assaulting women and children. Then, after the fact, in a very shocking interview that must have drove prosecutors and cops right around the bend, the girlfriend said the story of her getting beaten up wasn't true.
It‚Äôs easy to see, just from that case alone, what Johnston and FitzGerald are up against.
But the cops are on the right track here. They‚Äôre heading in the right direction.
And they've earned a pat on the back.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.