The first half of the session was aimed at cold cases, with a focus on missing persons. The session was very informational, and as expected, questions were encouraged. It was interesting to learn that there is no set minimum before which a person cannot be deemed missing, as somehow I always thought (wrongly!) that a person had to be missing for at least 48 hours before he/she can be reported as missing.
From the perspective of missing persons, it was heartening to see that there is a continuous intent by the police officers to try and locate the missing. As someone who has lost a relative who went missing and was eventually found dead, I can somehow understand what family members of a missing person goes through, and how sometimes not knowing is more difficult to deal with.
A cold case was described as a case where all known leads have been examined and the investigation isn't moving forward. Especially in case of violent crimes (including potential violent crimes in case of missing persons), it is pleasing to learn that Regina Police does have staff assigned full time to continue working towards solving the cases.
The officer who presented was clearly knowledgeable, and admitted that with improved forensics available today, cases that could not be solved fairly easily 20 years ago have a better chance of being solved today. However, it also brings forward new challenges - the type of evidence that could have helped to leverage the modern forensic techniques available now wasn't considered useful 20 years ago, and hence may not be available to examine.
What I would have preferred to also learn about was what is typically done to handle tunnel vision. I've always believed once you've eliminated all other possibilities, the only possibility that remains is a certainty. However, elimination is a complex process, more so for a criminal investigation, and I’d have liked to know how officers are able to account for tunnel vision during investigations.
Out of my very, very basic understanding I developed during the session, I also couldn't resist the temptation of suggesting an online cold cases registry for the Police – that way it becomes easier for public to report any information.
The second half of the session was focused on SROs (Student Resource Officers). Being someone without any involvement with the schooling system in the country before university level, I was very pleased to know that there are sworn police officers who are assigned to assist children up to high schools in their daily lives at school. I was highly impressed by these officers who clarified that their role is not to charge, but to encourage our young children to avoid a life of substance abuse, crime and convictions. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the intent for these officers is to provide an environment for the kids so that they feel comfortable and protected in sharing their problems, seeking advice, and being informed about the risks of seemingly harmless choices such as alcohol experimentation. I feel this is an excellent initiative – if growing up as children, we could have been reminded that police is there to protect and not to punish us, we wouldn't have grown up as adults who are usually suspicious, if not out rightly scared, of the police.
An interesting dilemma that I am sure some of the SROs have faced is the drawing the line after which they have to report and charge somebody. One of the scenarios that came to my mind was that of a young 8 year old sharing her story with an SRO which indicates drug abuse by her mother and physical abuse by her father. At that time, the SRO should act as a confidant and advise/support her, but also act as a police officer by investigating and possibly arresting one or both parents for abuse. However, it also risks imprinting on the mind of this 8 year old girl that because of the police, her parents split up and she probably had to go to child services. I’d love to understand how an SRO acts in such situations.
This is not to say that everything is perfect in the world. There are still a lot of ways the public perception can be improved further. An incident that was brought forward was about a man whose daughter had been missing for over a month, and he reported her missing only about a month after she went missing. A couple of days after the report, he questioned the quality of work the police were doing to find his daughter, only for an officer to retort that if he wanted her to be found, he wouldn't have waited a month to figure out she was missing. Any way I try to look at this incident, I cannot ignore the insensitivity of the remark. However, I also understand the investigating officer would have in this situation, knowing that the statistical possibility of finding a missing person decreases exponentially with the delay between when the person went missing and when the investigation started. Eventually, these officers want to do the best they can do to help the community, and have a right to feel aggrieved when the community doesn't step up to enable these officers to help. This does not condone those remarks in any way, and I still believe better sensitivity training can help minimize such incidents, just like I believe there is no way such incidents can be completely eliminated, given the high amounts of pressure and demand these officers have to deal with.
One has to keep in mind, however, that being a police officer is a unique job. While the jury may still be out about how difficult it may be to get into the force as a sworn public servant, it is nonetheless important to remind ourselves that it is not a job for everyone. I, for one, can never see myself putting my life in danger for anyone other than my close loved ones – certainly not for complete strangers. But a police officer does that on a regular basis.
I was once asked in a forum as to whether policing is a good idea in a society which claims itself to be inclusive and progressive. The answer I had was this – “There is a man standing outside your house with a gun in his hand. Would you prefer him to be a cop in vigilance of your house, or a robber waiting to break in?”