What do you think our Winnipeg Police do? Wrong.
Recently, I was invited on a ride along with the police and I witnessed what you don't get to see them do: Help people who don't want to be helped.
So how do you help people when they don't want your help? And why would someone in need, or even in danger, not want your help?
Before I tell you about three key moments you need to know about from that night, I need to tell you about a real life moment that may hold the key to understanding these questions.
I remember the day the doctor told my father he had six months to live ... "if that." Cancer. Nothing could be done. That night he wrote my mom a goodbye letter. It was like my dad already died that very day. And it was like my family died too.
Not long after, my dad had a follow-up appointment with another doctor. Perhaps an even more shocking appointment than the last: He didn't have cancer. The previous doctor made a horrific mistake. My dad was perfectly healthy. The only thing diseased at this point was his mind.
How could he ever trust another doctor again? How could I ever trust another doctor again? My family told this story to many, many people, who told many, many more people. A warning to be vigilant. A warning to protect them.
Years passed, and of course, we all continued to take care of ourselves. Regular doctor visits, routine tests and assessments. And, as is life, we each had medical emergencies. A couple of times I found myself in an emergency room: one very serious situation and one dire that landed me in the operating room. Both times, thankfully, doctors took care of me. My dad also ended up in an OR. He went in for a triple bypass, came out after having a quadruple bypass. The doctors saved his life.
Doctors save lives everyday and you don't hear about it. That's because they're supposed to. We expect them to do their jobs. So when a doctor fails at his or her job, it's a warning: This person is incompetent. This person is dangerous. Doctors are dangerous!
This sort of thinking is understandable. It's a good self-defence mechanism that protects us from the bad. It can also be a self-destructive mechanism that shields us from the good. But the more good we embrace, the more good we create.
Case in point: "Officer Goodheart."
So I had this segment on my talk show called TGPF - Thank Good People Friday, where people would call in and tell us something nice someone did for them that week. Bill calls in to share the story of his young son and a Winnipeg police officer. He explains his son was at an inner-city grocery store and this cop offered to buy him a loaf of bread. Holding back tears, Bill says life can be difficult at times, so this was a very generous and gracious act. I feel for Bill and offer him a couple of tickets to take his son to the Ex. Then someone else calls in - a stranger - and offers Bill $100 so he can enjoy the Ex with his kid to its fullest. Then another stranger calls in and offers WWE tickets for Bill to have another night out. And so the kindness continued to grow - exponentially. All because a cop bought a kid a loaf of bread.
But, it didn't stop there.
I went on a quest to find this anonymous Officer Goodheart - as he was now dubbed - and found him.
But, it didn't stop there.
I also found many goodhearted officers.
Damian, Officer Goodheart - or OGH as we'll call him - invited me for a ride along with the police. Bullet-proof vest and all. Or bullet-proof dress, in my case. At least I didn't have to wear 25 pounds of gear like the other officers. So I could be more spry ... you know, to protect them.
My shift would go from 4:30pm to 2:30am. I'd be paired with two supervisors: Officer Don for the first half of the shift, Officer Cory for the next.
In 2006 Officer Don, who has a wife and children, was shot in the intestines during a drug raid on Jubilee. Doctors gave him a 30 per cent chance of survival. He started policing again as soon as he could.
Last year, Officer Cory, who also has a family, took a tragic call for a woman who was eight-months pregnant. She took her own life and her unborn baby's life. A few weeks later he discovered the remains of six dead babies left in the U-Haul storage locker on McPhillips Street. Only when I asked did he describe the gruesome discovery. As he inspected white, translucent bags with his flashlight, he saw a little hand. He remembered what his children looked like when they were born. Then realized what he had found. Cory was training someone at the time, and was concerned for his trainee.
I'd only be partnered with each man for a few hours, but impressioned by each man for life.
It was a "slow night." The first colder night of the season. It takes awhile for criminals to acclimatize. Hey, they're human too, right?
I'm told usually there are over 200 calls in queue. Tonight there was barely a queue. So this slow night took us to the scenes of johns and sex trade workers, strung-out people, assaults, domestic violence, a suicidal individual, a stabbing, endangered children, people endangering themselves, a fentanyl overdose at a drug house, grand theft auto, a bar fight ... Then there were the incidents we just happened upon.
A slow night.
But every single case had one thing in common: the people who needed help from the police didn't want help from the police.
Like Officer Brian told me, "We go help people who don't even want our help."
He wasn't the only one to tell me this. I'm not sure if anyone DIDN'T tell me this. Worse, every victim that night showed me this. Even a woman, screaming in agony, within my reach, on the sidewalk in front of the Yale Hotel downtown, surrounded by police and paramedics - who were trying to stop the bleeding from the stab wounds in her abdomen. It's likely both she and her boyfriend knew who stabbed her, but they still chose not to pursue the case. At least 20 first responders were on scene for her. Police had to let a stolen SUV whisk by them in the interim, because the woman who needed help - but didn't want help - came first.
It would be great if the Yale Hotel could help too. You know, maybe the same way they put high-res cameras over their alcohol and cash register inside, they can put cameras outside the hotel they expect police to protect. Of course, it's not just low-end establishments that ultimately want police protection that could help the police. With its indoor security system, MTS Centre can probably tell you how many kernels of popcorn each patron ingests. Perhaps it could also invest in an outdoor surveillance system, instead of just expecting free surveillance from our already overwhelmed officers (and over-taxed citizens).
I can take you through each incident that night ... I can tell you about men who pay 13-year-old girls $20 for oral sex on our North End streets. I can tell you about 13-year-old girls from well-to-do families who go online and get violated offline like those North End girls. I can tell you about spending an hour at a drug house on King Edward ... multiple police units, fire and ambulance on scene. So many resources for a drug overdose, where vicious dogs seemed trained to keep the authorities at bay. I can tell you about accompanying Child and Family Service workers into a home on Selkirk Avenue at 1:30am, where they suspected children were in danger. One of the CFS workers told me another time she did this someone held a gun to her head, so she felt safer when police could join.
But, again, I need to tell you about three key moments from that night:
Officer Don and I are driving along Jarvis. We see a couple of sex trade workers. He stops the car.
"Ladies, can you hang on for one second please?"
"Are you calling me Peaches?" asks the seemingly strung-out woman. She falters away. I think she's afraid of Don, who gently approaches the sober-looking woman. Actually, I would never have assumed she's a sex trade worker, unless Don had told me.
She's 29, but looks much older. She's wearing black leggings and a grey and white checkered fall jacket, holding a black jacket and a big black purse.
Don asks her the same question he typically leads with, "Are you okay?"
"It's okay. We kinda watch each others' backs," she says referring to her strung-out companion, "Peaches," who's now standing about 100 metres away at the end of the street. She's very pleasant and explains she's been doing this less than a month and is "kinda homeless right now."
Don offers to take her somewhere to find a bed.
"I'm good," she says.
"Stay safe," he replies.
It's clear she's scared. It's also clear she's doing the best she can.
A short while later we found ourselves on Manitoba Avenue for a landlord-tenant altercation. OGH and his partner Meghan are already on scene.
Even though these are the steepest stairs I've ever climbed, I wouldn't touch the railing. I was careful not to touch anything in that house. It reeked and was filthy. Meghan and OGH tell me it's actually much cleaner than the last time they were there. The two men involved in the squabble have left. But the tenant left his girlfriend behind. They were in the process of moving and the place is filled with bags and boxes. The girlfriend lights up a cigarette. She says she's three or four months pregnant and asks the officers if they can help her carry the boxes down.
"You know you shouldn't smoke if you're pregnant?" says Officer Meghan.
"But I'm stressed."
"That's worse for the baby. You shouldn't smoke."
"I'm too stressed."
She's doing the best she can.
And so OGH and Meghan help her carry down boxes. Don warns me not to help. "You may get bed bugs or something."
Later, Don and I are driving along Main Street near Chief Peguis Trail. A woman stumbles across the street and nearly gets hit by the car in front of us. Don pulls over.
"Are you okay?" (Typical Don ...)
She says she got kicked out of her family's party. She lives on Powers near Selkirk and wants to get back home. Don offers her a ride. He helps her into the back seat. The cruiser now smells of alcohol. In the short drive, we discover she's raising her grandson. Her son surrendered his custody to her. She thinks her grandson is somewhere on Plessis tonight. She's not sure. I tell her to take a couple Advils when she gets home.
"Something tells me her night isn't over yet," Don says.
I watch her stagger towards her door.
She's doing the best she can.
Later that night, Officer Cory and I attend a call, along with many other first responders. A woman fell on her two-month-old's head, as result of alleged domestic assault from the baby's father. The situation progressed when she went to her van full of children with a noose threatening suicide. Things progressed even further when this case ended up leading to that house on Powers, where Officer Don and I dropped off the drunk grandmother.
Don was right. Her night was far from over.
A few days later, I get a text from OGH. "Here's something you were fortunate not to see ... but I wish you would've seen this that night."
It's a story about three-and-a-half-year-old boy we'll call Sam. He lives in a 40-square-foot living space with his meth-addicted mom, who allegedly turns tricks there for johns and gang members - while Sam is home. The only food in the house was a box of cereal. That night Sam's mom had his dad over. They were bickering.
OGH writes, "And here's what hurts my heart 4 days later and upsets me beyond explanation ... [Sam] was the most charismatic, funny, personable, smart and kind hearted boy I've met on the job in my 11 years. At one point, the 3.5 year old controlled the room of 2 officers and 2 'adult parents' at 1:00am." [sic]
He goes on to tell me that a few days later Sam received a care package with a bunch of food and goodies. (You know who gave it to him.) But while Sam woke up elated to find these treats, that elation quickly turned to tears and cries of devastation. CFS had to remove him from his mother's custody - at least temporarily. The drug dealers hiding in their washroom when OGH arrived on his second visit were just part of the reason. Sam's mom told OGH she'll work towards fixing this situation. And while he sees promise in her cooperation, he also sees this far too often.
And after that night, I didn't need to see this to know it existed.
Yes, there are deeper reasons why these problems exist, but there are also many people who care about the people experiencing these problems. They want to help. The police risk their lives and their family lives to help.
They are doing the best they can.
We're all doing the best we can, but we'd all do better with a little help.
My conversation with Officer Goodheart