Thursday, October 11, 2012

Of Police, Character, and Education

For the average person, there are about three kinds of people: those remembered fondly, those remembered negatively, and those not remembered at all. At least in my experience, the majority fall certainly into the majority while the other categories vie over the remainder, but that might have more to do with my memory having more in to do with an index than an actual publication. It happens that the thing that makes you rise above the crowd, out of obscurity, is also typically the thing that decides whether you stand out in a good or bad way - sort of like the difference between the star pupil and the class clown.

Sometimes though, when a person belongs to a specific group (in my case, usually defined by an occupation), the one memorable experience supercedes all the forgettable ones. That's the nature of memory and of impressions, and in cases where your profession is the kind I only deal with once in a blue moon, that experience can shape my percieved reality of your entire occupation. I know this isn't the wisest course of action, and it's certainly not fair, but I also know I'm not alone in making the characterization.

Recently a friend of mine, who I used to work with, posted a video from LiveLeak on his facebook timeline. Like many Canadians I spend a greater than average part of my time browsing facebook, and while I usually ignore videos, I remember that this person is a pretty lively conversationalist - one of those rare conspiracy theorists who is worth talking to, because he demands actual proof as opposed to absence of discussion of the idea. Since I tend to be fairly mainstream in my ideas of what the world is like, talking with him is always fun and informative, and I figured having a little insight into where he gets his information would be a fun time.

I'm not going to link the video, because I find it to be largely without merit, and this particular thought is about the comments section more than the video itself. The NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program (if it even exists) has absolutely no bearing on my day to day life. The lesson for me was in reading the comments, which were predominated by statements like:
All cops are crooked. I've been stopped 4 or 5 times in my life and even convicted for things I wasn't actually doing.
At which point the commenter invariably alludes to his visible minority status as the reason for the arrests and convictions.

As it happens, I've only ever interacted directly with police once. There are exceptions, like being the car when one parent or the other gets pulled over for the moving violation flavour of the month, but my one story goes something like this.

In what I'm pretty sure was August 2010, I received a phone call from my brother while at the movies, asking me to come home at once because we had been robbed. The stupid part was that not less than an hour beforehand I had been at the house and not noticed anything missing, but I also ran through it in the dark to pick one item up out of my bedroom and run back out. Regardless, the police were called, and arrived rather sluggishly, though I realize a crime already having happened is outranked in triage by crimes in progress. This isn't the biggest of cities and it seems absurd to me that the crime rate could be so high as to justify the delay.

When the officer finally did arrive, he decided that the crime was no big deal. A screen for my bedroom window had been slashed open with some kind of knife, but a spider web was constructed over the window. The officer insisted that a web takes 12 hours to form when I know for a fact a web of that size and species of spider really takes closer to two or three, but that didn't matter at the time. At the time, you see, my brother worked in retail, and a big part of his job was unloading and shelving stock, so he had a boxcutter. What was more, the cop was convinced by the spider web that the people who robbed us must have come in through the front door, and since there was no sign of the lock being forced, it must have been someone with a key. He basically did everything short of accusing us of fraud. We filed for our insurance, and got it, but then the policy was cancelled in the following June. To this day I believe the contents of the police report to have had some small hand in cancelling the policy. Insurance companies are suspicious and cautious by nature, however, so until I see the report, I'll accept they simply saw us as a liability.

In the years that followed I've taken a pretty narrow view of the police officers I don't know personally, largely because of my one experience with that one guy. Now though, I'm a couple years wiser, and the comments on the video got me thinking about my own preconceived idea of police corruption. Being bad at your job doesn't really mean you're corrupt. I'm a bad salesman, but it's not because I'm on the take with various competing companies.

I've had a few jobs since then. I'm a little ashamed to admit precisely how many, but I can do a resume on the last two years alone if that gives anyone an idea. I've worked now in every industrial sector except for manufacturing or public service, and in every job I've ever had, there's been precisely three kinds of coworkers: the good, the bad, and the not-so-memorable. With the jobs I've had, where you don't have to work particularly hard to get into the industry, or jump through all that many hoops, I've figured that this was par for the course, and no matter how lazy a co-worker was, I was always happier to see a lazy person working than a healthy person not.

I'm kind of a prick, but you get used to that.

I always assumed, that the "real" jobs, the education-heavy jobs, or the "classical" jobs, only attracted those that best suited them. I don't know why, but I figured that police departments were rather selective about who they allowed in. This was ignoring a lesson from my childhood, and my constant frustration with the cadets that just didn't care.

In every occupation, you're going to get people who are working only to get paid. Now, it's still an open question as to whether or not there are more police in Saint John who are working to get paid or who are working because it is their duty. I can't get too high on a horse about duty when I still haven't signed on to the CIC program in spite of having felt, basically since I graduated high school, that I had some small obligation to give back to a program that was, whether I completed it or not, a formative part of my childhood.

See, one of the things about the Royal Canadian Army Cadets that attracted the most eye-rolling was what we could loosely call character education (I believe the internal term was leadership). I know there's been some debate lately in the US over whether or not public schools should engage in character education. And while the small, christian part of me remembers I should show charity to all around me, I can't help but look at the vast majority of people my age and younger whose parents seemed not to bother with the effort. Since the only argument against character education has been that it belongs in the home, I find this to be a pretty compelling argument in favour.

See, I live in a town that, unfortunately, can't catch a break. We burst a bubble back in the eighties and can't climb out of it - lately we've been in the grips of a full-on-recession. We have a correspondingly high proportion of people on welfare. I'm actually happy when I get one of the forms to sign off on, to state that someone did, in fact, apply for a job here. Sometimes I mark the resume for special consideration by the people who actually make that decision.

The reason is that I spent a lot of my time with childhood friends, both parents of whom often collected welfare. The only way this is actually possible is to fraudulently claim living separately. What lesson is that to children? You do not need to work for a living; the government will hand you money, and you can defraud them for even more if you aren't making enough?

I think schools should teach leadership. I know my old high-school did, but they did it oddly. Physical education was a pre-requisite course and so only a few dedicated people (most of whom were already in one of the three branches of cadet service or active in scout programs) actually took it.

Build it into social studies. We spend so much time hearing about our civic duty to vote in those classes, but nobody votes because nobody understands why civic duty is important. If I didn't think that I was the last person I wanted patrolling the streets, I'd halfway consider joining the force myself. If I didn't think that I was the last person I wanted to share a foxhole with, I'd consider joining the Regular Force or the Reserves. If I didn't think I was the last person I wanted practicing medicine (given my horrible memory), I'd be a doctor or an EMT.

Government exists to serve the safety and welfare of the people, to guide a society forward and safeguard its progress. It can't do that without a generation of conscientious adults, at least not properly. It can't do that with soldiers who become soldiers to go to war, and it can't do that with cops who become cops to have job security. For the object of the standing army is not to be ready for war but to stand on guard for peace, and the objective of the police is not to safeguard oneself but to safeguard others.

My favourite verse of any bit of writing has always been;

God keep our land,
glorious and free,
O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

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