“Burning Bridges” and Public Relations

Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca/Editorial

On any given day there are two sides to every story.  I’d like my side to be heard.

I’ll avoid specific wording, names of organizations and hashtags as I’m not catering to online search efforts.

Recently a good Samaritan intervened in an altercation involving an aggressive citizen and an officer.  The good Samaritan relayed the details of his experience later on at the gas pump down the road.  He said that if he hadn’t helped out the results could have been grave as the officer was being pummeled on the ground.  This situation is the flip side of those circumstances we hear about involving inappropriate use of t asers.  When we hear about extreme circumstances that sound like news from down south – a recent news story being a prime example – we are reminded of the dangers inherent in working in this field.

I don’t know this type of work intimately; however,  I do have two uncles who worked in this field and have heard stories.  They were both well respected and known for their good nature, and fair and intelligent approach to their work.  They set the bar high.  When I think about my expectations for people in that line of work, I think of them.

I’m not a bad apple – not even part time.  I don’t run lights.  I try to drive properly.  I don’t shoplift.  I don’t kick in cars when our hockey team loses.  I don’t verbally assault medical professionals or bus drivers.  I don’t drink and drive. I don’t use a cell phone or text while driving.

I’m trying to present the more common reasons why a regular Josie like me might run up against the law.

That said, if you tell me that my children are stuck in the middle of an “incident zone” that has cropped up during the ten minutes that I have been away, I will be concerned.  If you are telling me that you don’t want anyone on that street and I’m made to understand that there is some kind of manhunt under way (cue helicopter, multiple officers and sniffer dog), it’s not enough to simply tell me to go away. Why?  Because I know my children, their friend and the friend’s mum are sitting in a house with the patio door open.  Furthermore, I can’t even call them because I left my cell phone on the kitchen table.

This is where I ask that preconceived notions about “The Mom” be set aside.  I don’t have the latest iPhone stuck to my hip like an appendage – phone camera at the ready to snap a Twitter bound photo for the world to see.  I don’t even own a smart phone. BUT like many people, my phone is the only location where I have my friend’s phone numbers.   I had no way to call the house. I couldn’t call and say “please lock your doors” or “I won’t be able to come back for over an hour.” Ultimately I ended up being away from the house for 1 1/2 hours.

Here are the problematic points:

  • People in our quiet neighbourhood don’t understand the term “incident”.  Why is a helicopter flying overhead?  We don’t know.  Since we’re not given any explanation due to confidentially issues, we never really CAN know.  G unmen hiding out anywhere in Canada is a rare situation. So what are we really talking about here when a street is suddenly closed, a helicopter is circling overhead and a dog is sniffing about?
  • How long do these “incidents” last? 15 minutes? An hour? Unlimited periods of time depending on the situation?  We’re not experts so we do not know.  Don’t assume that we do.

It’s easy to say “look silly woman, it’s a p olice incident. Don’t you get it?  Of course we know who will be calling the same people if she’s in trouble. You!”

Let’s not fall off into sidebars.  Here’s the flip side of how this plays out.

I encounter a blocked street.  G uns aren’t drawn.  An officer is standing next to a car blocking the road.  His colleagues are nowhere in sight.  This is a complete surprise as this never happens in our neighbourhood.  On my side I ask why the street is blocked, explain I’m cut off from my children (I don’t mention the phone) and ask if I can at least park my car and walk to the house which is 5 houses away and just around the corner. On the officer’s side he tells me the street is blocked due to a incident and  the children are considered to be fine if they’re with an adult.  (Who knows if the open doors are an issue?)   He says I can’t walk in and immediately adds that I need to leave (cue aggravated tone of voice and loud volume) or I’ll be arrested for “obstruction of justice”.

Obstruction of justice.  Seriously?  As in an arrest that would lead to a permanent police record. This is something that would also have a permanent impact on my job prospects.  In my line of work, police record searches can sometimes be required.

That’s when I told the officer that he has poor communication skills.

Oh yes I did.

Why?  Because all he had to say was “I understand your situation. I’m not at liberty to discuss what’s happening….”

but come back in X amount of time.


but please call the station to ask when you should come back.

My parents worked in the foreign service. Knowing what to say during a crisis is customary and expected.  I learned from an early age how to stay cool under pressure and communicate clearly.   I can be very clear while being polite and have had the opportunity to put these skills to effective use.  If you’re looking for someone who can be proactive, effective and establish strong connections with clients and members of the public (including difficult ones), I’m your [wo]man.  Any number of people can support my claim.

When I’m told forcefully to go away or I’ll be arrested, this leaves me in a predicament.   When should I come back?  If I come back and the officer is still there, will he consider that I’m a trouble maker.  Apparently he’s already branded me as a problem.  Will he make good on his arrest promise?  As I leave I encounter two police and a dog on the lower side of the street that is visible from below.  This might be a normal, daily situation for these men but for me this is very alarming as they are just under the house. I don’t know what to do.  Why would I?  And I haven’t been given any direction other than a threat of arrest.

Ultimately I have to thank a mutual contact who gave me contact numbers for the house.  If this hadn’t been possible, I would have left the mum in the house  very concerned about why I hadn’t returned after 1 1/2 hours rather than 10 minutes.  The first thing I said when I got through was “please close and lock your doors”.  I spoke with two people at the station and was informed there were were multiple incidents ongoing and the emergency hot line was very busy.  I didn’t want to speak with someone directly responsible for those calls. I like to avoid those employees because clearly they are very busy.  I just wanted to know how I could know if/when I could return as I had been told to go away or I’d be arrested.

Communication With the Public 101.

It’s not that hard.

With all the bad apples out there and problems that need to be addressed, gee it sure would be nice for law abiding people like me to feel that we are being treated with respect, using a thoughtful approach.  If time is of the essence, there are succinct ways to get a message across.  “I will arrest you if you don’t move” isn’t one of them.  Members of the public aren’t potential problems to be contained.  Sometimes all it takes is good communication skills – often learned in work-related training. That’s what people expect. Heavy handed approaches “burn bridges” and make for horrible public relations. And I’m not even talking about these types of situations – link.

I was advised by an experienced elder to provide simple feedback to the station indicating that clear communication would be appreciated rather than a threat of arrest.  But why bother?  I doubt my communiqué would be believed or acted upon.  I might even have a black mark put next to my name.  This doesn’t happen?  Really?  Isn’t it always the other person – people like me – who clearly were wrong?  We must have committed some kind of threatening or provocative action.  We’re not supposed to ask a question or think in a different way.

Yes I realize we’ve got it better than most people in other countries but I always say don’t assess your situation by looking in the rear view mirror.  It’s easier to say “oh this is a one off situation involving that individual”.   It’s easy to not say anything at all because we feel it won’t make a difference.


More on arrests and what to expect can be found at this link.

If you are under active investigation, in custody, arrested or detained – whether unjustly accused or not – 24 hour emergency access to speak with a lawyer is available via the Brydges Line: 1 (866) 458-5500   There is no charge for the call.  (via Legal Services Society website.)

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3 thoughts on ““Burning Bridges” and Public Relations

  1. I used to live a block from there on Marinaside so I know that block well. It reminds me that I was once in a restaurant on the 17th floor of a building when a SWAT team entered (with a dog) because a robber with a gun was hiding out by eating at a neighbouring table. What happened yesterday seemed to be an example of a zone that moved from one location to another.

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