I often get asked about how big the transition has been moving from city councillor to mayor. Having served on New Westminster City Council for 9 years, the transition has been for the most part fairly smooth, but there are some areas and responsibilities that have been new for me. One of these is my role as Chair of the Police Board. Although Council does interact with the police department on high level planning and budgeting, it is the Police Board that plays a larger governance function with department oversight. To help bring myself up to speed, I decided to join the New Westminster Police for a ride-along during a night shift this past summer. It was an experience that I found very valuable and something that I will likely try and do at least once a year. Here are my takeaways from the night:
- New Westminster is fairly quiet. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into the evening, but I think I naively expected all hell to break loose after 11pm (my normal bed time). The biggest situation we resolved all night was locating a missing 15 year old girl who was 3 hours past her curfew. This is not to say that we weren’t busy, as we took many calls throughout the evening, but the experience did not replicate the many police and detective shows I’ve watched on TV over the years. The sergeant I was riding with noted that Friday nights used to be a lot more interesting before all of the beer halls on Columbia Street closed down.
- Police officers need to be good communicators and able to show empathy. Almost every call we responded to that night involved the officers talking one-on-one with individuals who were at a difficult or unfortunate point in their life. Helping these individuals often involved talking “with” them instead of talking “at” them. The most emotionally difficult stop we made that evening was with a young woman whose boyfriend had overdosed on fentanyl a few days earlier. I don’t know the type of training officers receive for this type of situation, but it really opened my eyes on the types of skills needed to work in a modern police force.
- Police officers have to process information and prioritize decisions very quickly. As the father of three young daughters, I’m often caught in a situation where all three of my girls are talking to me at the same time about different things. After a few minutes (maybe seconds) of this, my brain usually starts to shut down. Riding in the police car reminded me of this situation. When things got busy, the computer screens would start flashing, the radio would be going non-stop and cell phones would be buzzing. I had a hard time keeping up with what was happening and was really impressed with how the sergeant was able to keep track of everything going on and then make decisions on what actions he and the officers needed to take.
When the ride along was over, I left with both a better understanding of what police work really looks like and a renewed appreciation for all of the hard work involved. Thanks to the New Westminster Police Department for providing me with this opportunity and – as always – for keeping our city safe.