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A police officer’s lot


Last summer I was leaving the office and walking to the tram when I saw a woman lying on the pavement, seemingly unconscious.

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It was a 40-plus degree day and she was wearing a hoodie and long pants but that was the least of her worries.

At the same time a cyclist stopped and tried to waken the woman, speaking firmly but kindly to her and explaining to me that she might be diabetic or have other health complications, perhaps COVID as well.

Thankfully she responded to his gentle nudge but she became quite agitated as she tried, unsuccessfully, to stand up. The cyclist continued to talk to her in a very reassuring way and by now it was obvious we needed to call an ambulance.

As I got my phone out, a priest from the Cathedral parish drove out of the carpark and came to help. He called the ambulance and spoke at length about the woman’s condition, following their advice and patiently answering questions.

While I stood by helplessly, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the cyclist and the way he spoke to the woman. I soon discovered he was an off-duty policeman, on his way home from work, who was clearly experienced in this sort of emergency.

I thought of him the other day when a local radio station was quizzing the Police Commissioner Grant Stevens about lack of transparency in the way complaints against police are dealt with internally.

It was one of those annoying interviews where it didn’t matter what the Commissioner said about the rights of a police officer to a fair investigation, the radio jocks were not going to be satisfied.

That same day there was the shocking and sad case of two police officers being stabbed at Crystal Brook and the offender being shot dead.

The media coverage was, of course, massive and everyone, including the radio jocks, were hugely supportive of, and concerned for, the police officers. There was much talk about the dangerous situations police officers find themselves in on a regular basis.

I realise that every case is different and the police don’t always make the right decision in the heat of the moment or even when they have time to think about the consequences of their actions.

But the hypocrisy of one minute instantly labelling the police heroes, and the next minute denying them the right to a fair complaints process, is indicative of the media’s all-or-nothing view of the world.

Rarely do we read or see stories of police officers helping someone (even when they’re off duty); that doesn’t make great content.

I am sure there are many police officers like the one I met outside the Cathedral who are passionate about helping vulnerable people in our community. I know, for a fact, that John Wallace was one of them.

When I spoke to him about his career as a police officer, he was quick to point out that “life was much simpler back then” and that the challenges posed by drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues are far greater today.

Police and other frontline health and emergency workers bear the brunt of many of today’s social problems.

So next time we see a policeman or policewoman in the street – some of whom are probably sons and daughters of our families and friends – we should perhaps say a quick thank you for the amazing work they do in keeping our communities as safe as possible.

Postscript: The ambulance called by our priest arrived about half an hour later and we expressed our gratitude to the highly capable and caring young paramedics for taking control.  As for the poor woman and how she came to be in this position – well I guess that’s another story.

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