I wasn't planning on having the "cop talk" with my two older kids just yet. I thought I'd wait until they were at least 12 or 13. You, know, when they could better understand why the people who swear to uphold the law and protect citizens sometimes do stupid and illegal things.
But the issue came up during the Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown. As the crowds swirled around us, I asked a question I knew they would know the answer to.
"If we get separated or lost, what do you do?"
"Find a police officer," they repeated dutifully. "You can trust them."
We've been over it a million times.
Thankfully, the conversation ended there. But they're smart kids (I know, every parent says that) who read the papers and listen to news on the radio. I wonder how much longer I can expect them to believe me.
In my imagined scenario, we are in the car, where all of the best conversations happen.
A police cruiser passes us on the left, slows for a red light, flashes its lights and moves on.
"That cop just drove through a red light!"
"They're allowed to do that. They must be on their way to an emergency."
At the next intersection, we pull up beside the cruiser, which is no longer in a hurry.
"Why aren't they going through this red light?"
"I don't know, maybe it's not an emergency any more."
"Well what about that police officer in Kelowna who parked in the disabled parking space? You always get mad at people who do that if they don't have the special sticker."
"She was going to arrest a shoplifter at a mall."
"Was that an emergency?"
"Well, no. It wasn't. She's been given a good talking to. And she has to pay a parking ticket. Police get in trouble too, you know," I tell them.
"You mean like the 14 police officers in Vancouver who got in trouble for sending around dirty e-mails?"
"Yeah, like them."
"Are they going to get a good talking to as well?"
"I imagine so."
"Can their bosses fire them?"
"Yes, they can, but the officer would have to do something really, really bad. Sometimes the bosses get in trouble too."
"Yeah, like the police chief in Victoria who left his loaded gun under his car seat."
"Well, to be fair, the car was locked and it was parked in the police garage, which should mean it's safe."
"Yeah, but that's just dumb."
"Well, he left it there because he had to go talk to the media about some weapons that had gone missing from his police station. People do all kinds of things in police cars."
"When you guys were really little, he was the chief of police in Vancouver, you know."
"Did he leave his gun in his car then too?"
"No, but he did leave a target from the shooting range on the city manager's desk."
"What's a city manager?"
"She's the boss of the city."
"Why did he leave it on her desk?"
"I don't know. I guess maybe he was proud of it, like when you guys do well on a test, you want everybody to see it. He wrote her a note telling her how much more he liked shooting his gun than being at work."
"The city manager thought so too. Hey, do you guys know what 'discreditable conduct' means?"
"No, what is it?"
"Never mind, just something else."
"Does it mean zapping somebody with a taser?"
"No, but police do that sometimes too."
"Yeah, like if you don't pay your fare on the SkyTrain."
"Or like the guy at Vancouver airport who didn't speak English."
"Yes, like him. His name was Robert."
"But he died."
"Yes he did."
"Did the police get in trouble for that?"
"Sort of. They all have to go to court."
"Are they still police officers?"
"Yes, they are."
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver. firstname.lastname@example.org