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He didn’t stop. I drove my elbow into his back.
“Get on the ground. Do it now.”
He didn’t get on the ground. He didn’t do it now. I gripped his right arm, my partner squeezed his left and we threw him to the pavement and battled to handcuff him: a battle captured on a woman’s cellphone camera while she yelled: “He didn’t do anything!”
Except he had done something. He had threatened to “take out” my partner, then stared at my gun, reached toward me and said: “I could take that from you.”
The fight continued, his arms flailing, his legs thrashing. I was 99-per-cent focused on controlling him, on making sure that neither my partner nor I got hurt and 1-per-cent conscious that this might be on YouTube within the hour. A typical Sunday night in Victoria. Although “typical” might be a stretch – but just barely. Because this wasn’t unusual.
In the six months since I’d gone back into uniform after a long stint as a detective, I had been in at least half a dozen altercations where I’d had to use force to make an arrest, and using force is never pretty. Fear and anger, punching and kicking, baton strikes and blood – all a necessary, but unpleasant, part of policing.
Cops are not ninjas, not even close. As recruits we get a lot of training in self-defence, but once we’re actually doing the job we get very little. A few hours of refresher training annually – enough to scrape off some rust.
Most cops don’t want to fight, ever. It’s a little different as a rookie, when you’re young and brash and the job is new and exciting. You crave adventure – situations where you can test yourself under pressure and see what you’re made of when it counts – not just wrestling on a gym mat at police college but scrapping with a suspect whose sole goal is to escape and who has no qualms about injuring you in the process. Then, subduing him can be very satisfying.
Still, mostly cops do not want to fight: We don’t want to get hurt, we want to go home to our families. And we don’t want the scrutiny that inevitably, and justly, is placed on us when someone is injured during a confrontation. That scrutiny – whether it comes from internal affairs, the media or the online world – brings stress and sleepless nights. Even if you did everything right, the scrutiny can make you feel as if you did something wrong, especially in this social-media era when it seems a week can’t go by without a new allegation of police misconduct somewhere in North America.
I’ve worked for two different police departments in two provinces and almost universally my colleagues are men and women of integrity, thoughtful, caring, smart and passionate. Most of them became cops because they really wanted to help people and make a difference.
But sometimes making a difference means violence. We’ve all been to police funerals; nothing is more gut wrenching. We all work with colleagues who have used deadly force, good people who had to make the excruciating decision to take a life in order to save a life.
Most confrontations never make the news. Like the one on a Sunday night in Victoria, which didn’t make it to YouTube either.
It happened around midnight in a bustling downtown square at the height of tourist season, when people from around the world were visiting our city because of its beauty and charm. Victoria is simultaneously quaint and magnificent, not an easy combination to achieve, but there is also an underside: Scores of homeless men and women wander our streets. Most of them are addicts or mentally ill, or both.
The guy walking through Bastion Square that night had his hands behind his back as if he’d been handcuffed, which was weird because he hadn’t. That’s what caught my eye.
My partner approached him first. She had seen him too and talked to others who had watched him acting strangely. My partner, who is a mom, a veteran officer and one of the nicest people you could ever meet, genuinely cared about him. She wanted to ensure that he was okay. If he was, he’d be walking away on his own accord. But if he wasn’t okay – either physically or mentally – we would have to determine if police intervention was required, which could mean anything from calling an ambulance to taking him to the hospital ourselves for an evaluation.
He was confrontational from the outset, verbally and physically. My partner showed restraint and patience. She tried to defuse the situation with words and did a great job. He still threatened to assault her and to go for my gun. So we arrested him and the struggle went to the ground. Other cops joined in while the woman filmed it and adrenalin surged through my body. The guy kept fighting. It took minutes to handcuff him. He ended up in the psychiatric ward with criminal charges pending.
He hadn’t stopped and violence ensued.
The last thing the cops wanted on a summer’s night in Victoria.
Daryl Baswick lives in Victoria.