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Letter: Respecting Const. Rick O’Brien — and all police officers

Police officers deserve community support, respect and gratitude for putting their lives at risk every day, says the National Police Federation.
Const. Frederick “Rick” O'Brien died in the line of duty in Coquitlam on Sept. 22, 2023.

The Editor:

As police officers and union representatives, we've been supporting our friends and colleagues in Ridge Meadows, Coquitlam, Burnaby and beyond through the aftermath of the murder of Const. Frederick "Rick" O'Brien.  

We are all devastated, and lives have been shattered.

The surrounding communities in the Tri-Cities and beyond have responded and been incredibly supportive. Flowers, cards, teddy bears, treats, and tears have flooded the detachments and, thankfully, this gives our Members a little boost.

When a police officer is killed in Canada, the surrounding community steps up and shows their support.

Often following on-duty police deaths, we see community leaders stand up to offer condolences and statements. It is heartwarming and appreciated — when it is genuine.

But police officers, and I believe the public, know when someone is grandstanding for political gain and that's insulting and hurtful. Police are not political pawns, they are heroes in life. Don't wait for their death to be supportive.

But why do our friends have to die, for this outpouring of appreciation? Why is it that other days police officers are sworn at, spit on, disrespected, injured and threatened? With no public or political outcry?   

The Members we represent live this daily, and they keep coming back for their next shift to keep people in their communities safe.

They did not sign up for this, and it's not okay.

Canada and B.C. are grappling with a myriad of interconnected issues playing out on our streets almost daily. At the centre is a criminal justice system that appears to be in a state of stagnation, with the lack of action on bail reform serving as a glaring example.

I recall a file where I arrested the same person three times in a single day. 

The current "catch-and-release" system and lack of data-informed processes, supports and monitoring compromises public safety across Canada, and increases safety risks for Members of the RCMP, and all police. Repeatedly responding to calls and arresting the same individuals has a significant negative impact on Members’ morale and overall well-being.

Members deserve cooperation, appreciation, and a legal system that respects and advances their work. We support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; but increasingly victim's rights and the rights of society have lost equal footing to the rights of the accused. 

This contributes to increased violence against police, further fuelled by a public narrative and media bias resulting in an atmosphere of hostility and distrust in which police can no longer rely on people to follow lawful directions. 

In a world where the social narrative calls for more de-escalation by police, we need everyone invested in giving us our best chance to succeed in employing this, over more physical means.

Critics are quick to cite incidents and trends from other countries in their criticism of Canadian police officers.

However, we suggest they take a step back and instead point a finger at the ongoing erosion and lack of adequate social services for those experiencing homelessness, mental health, and/or addiction issues, and marginalization.

This not only endangers these individuals but also increases the burden on our criminal justice system. This is a tragic and preventable cycle that requires urgent government attention. I would suggest that the critics invest their energy in these areas.

In short, police officers need the support of their community, elected officials and the legal system to do their job effectively and safely.

They deserve our thanks and respect, every day and every shift.

- Trevor Dinwoodie, Rob Farrer, Jeff Swann, Chris Voller

Board Directors, Pacific-North Region, National Police Federation

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