Geoff Johnson: Defund police? I’d rather offer a thumbs-up

It was a cool and very dark, very early September morning. My son and I were in the driveway behind our house loading his wherewithal for a return to university into his small pickup truck.

A police cruiser, fully lit up, came around the house and blocked my son’s truck from leaving. A neighbour had become aware of the fact that somebody was loading household goods into a pickup at 4 a.m. and called 911.

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The two policemen carefully and politely asked us to provide ID. They checked the plate on my son’s truck to confirm ownership against the address.

They were firm, but courteous and stood well back until we had identified ourselves and clarified the situation.

Satisfied, they signalled and another constable emerged from the woods behind our parking lot. She had been there, alone in the dark, to block any sudden escape.

There was not a local “defund the police” politician to be seen. Home safe and still tucked in bed I guess.

That was years ago, but last week, as my wife and I were sitting on a bench at a local beach, a stranger, maybe in his mid-sixties, came up and stood inches away to tell us that the Egyptian pyramids had been built by magic.

I asked him politely to step back six feet because of COVID-19 protocols.

“No”, he said, “and now I’m going to cough on you and kill you.”

Again, I asked him to step back, but he stepped closer and began to shout again: “I’m going to cough on you and kill you.”

We brushed past him and walked back to our car while he followed, shouting threats all the way. We watched from our car as he eventually got into a van and drove away.

When we got home, we phoned the detachment and reported the incident, along with the man’s licence-plate number.

Later that evening the local police called back. They had visited the fellow, who was known to them, at his home. It was a cautious visit because records showed that he had, at one time, been involved in similar incidents and they had no idea what to expect except that he had a record of mental instability.

He was cautioned about his behaviour and a further report lodged with mental-health authorities.

Again, no local politicians were available to provide that service.

In my career as a superintendent of schools, I met with a variety of people, some more rational than others, but none of them at 4 a.m. in a dark wooded parking lot or at a house where a mentally unstable person who had been issuing death threats lived.

I’ve never had to pull a vehicle over at midnight at the top of the Malahat because that vehicle had been reported as stolen. I doubt that any local politician has found himself or herself in that situation.

I have never had to attend to a report of family violence — apparently a dangerous and unpredictable situation for anybody who attempts to intervene.

I have never had to attend to an address where I found the tiny bodies of a child or children murdered by a parent.

I’ve never had to attend to a stabbing in the street or a park where the attacker was still at large.

But I’ve walked down Government Street at 11 p.m. after a movie, ever watchful of others around us. I was always reassured the police were nearby, sometimes checking unfamiliar faces, or, in some cases, faces they recognized only too well.

For local wannabe politicians to be jumping on the U.S. “defund the police” bandwagon says nothing about the work that local police do here on Vancouver Island. It says a great deal, though, about political individuals advocating “defunding” the police service and shamelessly pandering to what they believe is their “base” in order to draw a headline or sound like “Trumpy” law-and-order advocates.

This is not the U.S. This is Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

But even here, as with any profession, doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers, police officers sometimes make mistakes once in a while by just acting like human beings under the kind of pressure few if any of us ever experience.

Back on that dark September morning, was my home being cleared out by thieves?

No, but I’m glad the officers came to check an undefined suspicious situation at risk to their own safety.

When a mentally unstable person threatened, did one of our politicians go to the fellow’s house not knowing what might happen? I didn’t, and neither did the politician braying about “defunding” the police service.

Does any of the above avoid recognizing unacceptable police behaviour when it does occur? No. But when you see a police officer on patrol, give him or her the “thumbs up.”

I don’t want the job and neither do you, but you need it.

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools who has welcomed many officers into schools.

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