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Rethinking police stereotypes

calgary-police.jpg
A Calgary police officer stands watch in downtown Toronto. (Carmen Millet)

By Carmen Millet, G20 citizen blogger

carmen52.jpgYou've already heard it, but I'll say it again. Downtown Toronto is officially a ghost town.

The only people still downtown are the diehard inhabitants crazy enough not to partake in the Great Toronto Exodus of 2010 and the 5,000 or so police officers imported from across the country.

There's been a lot written about the G20 - about the mighty, mighty price tag, the fence, the disruptions, the issues, and the protests, to name a few - but I hadn't seen anything written about these officers. Patches from places I've visited such as Niagara, Peel, Halton, Peterborough and Stratford, to ones I haven't, like Waterloo, Calgary, and Winnipeg, piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know who these people were.

I wanted to know what they thought. I wanted to know what they were feeling. I wanted to know how this was affecting them, and whether they were scared to death or as happy as a lark.

So I asked.

I was walking down Simcoe near Front Street when I saw random pairs of officers standing around a light pole. As I drew closer, I saw they were from Calgary, and I said, "Wow, you're far from home!"

Staff Sgt. Robert Rutledge and Sgt. John Orr had literally just arrived in Toronto. In fact, when I ran across them, they had been here such a short time that they didn't yet know what part of the city they were in or where the convention centre was.

With abandoned miscellany, I dove right in and fired off my 20 questions. Calmly, and without missing a beat, they told me they weren't at all nervous or afraid. They had both participated in the G8 summit held in Kananaskis, Alta., in 2002, so, although the Toronto summit was
significantly larger, they'd been through a similar experience.

I don't often hang around cops. I don't know any, I don't come from a family of them and, truth be told, I do my best to avoid them at all cost.

There seems to be a perception about law enforcement, though, that they're constantly looking for a fight, that they try to incite violence, or that they're neo-conservative blockheads who spend their days writing speeding tickets just to hit their quota. Rutledge and Orr, though, seemed to be about as far away from those stereotypes as we are from the moon, and what Orr said next surprised me.

"Everybody has a right to protest," he shared. "We're here to make sure everyone stays safe and to make sure the protesters have their voices heard in a protected way." I must have had a look of shock on my face because Rutledge said, "some of us do hold liberal beliefs."

And then, with a chuckle, "We're not all bad!"

Indeed.

I thought about my conversation with them and wondered if that was a decidedly Canadian attitude. Then I realized that maybe Staff-Sgt. Rutledge and Sgt. Orr's attitudes are a more widely held attitude of police officers than I'm aware. Granted, there's always someone who  wants to be the hero or garner the spotlight, but maybe I'm the Flintstone who still believes in the old clich├ęs?

I've seen these 5,000 officers help elderly people across the street. I've witnessed them patiently answering questions from tourists (even though many are here from out-of-town themselves) such as the best route to get to the CN Tower or what time the next bus and boat tour leaves. I've seen them greeting passersby with a friendly "hello!" and "hi, how are ya?" and good-naturedly smile for the incessant cameras.

I don't know a lot about these 5,000 men and women, but what I do know is that they have, in many cases, left their friends and families to travel to Toronto to protect the leaders, the city, and, most importantly, us. They have chosen to put themselves in a potentially potent situation and do it in an affable, accommodating way. I think they are the ones who are owed $1 billion worth of gratitude. 

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