(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 12, 2000)

For real stress try being a cop

By Leo Knight

WHAT'S the most stressful thing likely to happen to you at work tomorrow?   


The boss might get a little cranky? Maybe Bill Gates' Frankenstein-creation will crash on you just when you had almost completed that presentation for the big meeting. You might even have difficulty finding a parking spot when you are running late for that big sales call.  


In the last month Vancouver police were forced to shoot a deranged man wielding a meat cleaver in a downtown rooming house. Days later, a veteran RCMP officer in Langley was forced to shoot and kill a man armed with a long pair of scissors and an oxygen bottle in a hospital emergency ward.  


A Toronto tactical officer had to shoot a man holding what turned out to be a replica handgun to the temple of a doctor in an emergency ward. He was evidently frustrated because medical staff weren't seeing his son quickly enough on a busy New Year's Eve. And in Edmonton, tactical officers were engaged in a street shootout with a Vietnamese gangster, Long Duy "Crazy Jimmy" Phuong.   


Unlike the first three incidents, which involved emotionally disturbed people and not criminals, at least in the Edmonton case, Phuong emerged from his car holding a gun and tossed the first shots at the officers engaged in the tactical takedown of the gangster and his cohort. Unfortunately for him he badly miscalculated the odds. Fortunately for society, he won't be missed.  


The sudden increase in officer-involved shootings brought about the ubiquitous calls for the police to "shoot to wound" and a host of other inane suggestions. North Vancouver RCMP Supt. Jamie Graham was pressed into service on a CKNW talk show to try to explain why these things happen.   


Why indeed?   


Callers into the radio program were less than sympathetic to the police, forgetting somehow that the police officers involved are not gun-happy nor are they anxious to get involved in situations where they might have to use deadly force.   


Their job requires they place themselves in harm's way. When they fire their weapon it is to protect a life, most commonly their own.   


Last week I spoke to the officer who pulled the trigger in Langley Memorial Hospital killing the distraught family man. Despite what has been said by the uninformed, the police officer had no choice in that case.   


The officer, a 25-year veteran of the mean streets, attended the call from hospital staff as a backup to the assigned member. Unlike many supervisors, this officer took the point as they set off to locate the disturbed suspect who had already threatened to kill medical staff.   


He was directed to a door by a staff member and told the suspect had a long pair of scissors and a small metal oxygen bottle. As the officer reached for the door handle, the door was ripped from his hand and the suspect came right at him scissors held aloft in attack.   


In his left hand, the officer had pepper spray and in his right, his duty weapon. Despite the threat, the officer first sprayed the charging man, but, as with many persons in a psychotic episode, the pepper spray had no effect.   


The attacking man, when hit in the face with the pepper spray, merely slowed somewhat and screamed "F*** you!" and continued his attack. When he was within a couple of feet of the officer, the scissors aimed at the officer's face, two quick shots were fired felling the man. The whole incident lasted about two or three seconds from the time the police officer first put his hand on the doorknob until the suspect lay dead on the floor.   


The officer went home a few hours later and hugged his sons and his wife. The other man, who should never have been in the position had there been an adequate health care system, did not. Instead of a hug, his wife had the ignominy of talking on the phone with a member of the hospital staff and heard the shots fired depriving her forever of that hug.   


The police officer had to make peace with his actions, at least comfortable that the actions of the distraught man had left him no choice. He'll never know if the man was intent on a "suicide by cop" or if the inaction of the hospital with scarce resources was the root cause.   


On the surface at least, he has made that peace with himself. But who knows what he may think when the demons come in the night and he wakes up bathed in a cold sweat, his heart thumping in his head like a big bass drum.   


Now what is it you think you know about stress?







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