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Do the Police 'Serve and Protect'?

Updated on May 31, 2012

Personal Experience with The Police

The police are supposed to’ serve and protect’ the community but historically they have not always lived up to that expectation. There are numerous incidents of police using extreme force against people, most of whom are people of colour. These incidents generate and perpetuate the negative perceptions of the police prevalent in some ethnic communities in Canada, United States of America and internationally. According to Scot Wortley, PhD, Associate Professor, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, in a 2006 preliminary report on “Police use of Force in Ontario”, the majority of Toronto’s Black community (55%) believe that the police are more likely to use force against Black people than White people. As a Canadian, I appreciate the service that our police forces provide in ensuring all our safety; but as a person of colour, I am torn when I heard of or reflected on an interaction with a representative of the police force that left me feeling harassed and demeaned.

Recently, I had an experience with a police officer in my local community that has caused me to think about police relations in my community. So what happened?

On May 28th at about 8:35am after dropping off my child at school, I was on my way to work in the city. As I drove along a major route leading to one of the highways that lead into the city, I heard the siren of an ambulance. It appeared from my rear view mirror that the ambulance was in the left lane, which was about three or four cars behind me. I was in the furthest left lane, so I immediately started moving over to the right to stop. While in the process of moving across four lanes of the roadway, I was mindful of the traffic around me and their proximity. I specifically observed a vehicle to my right that was too close so I didn’t want to stop abruptly and create an accident. So while being aware of other motorists, I had moved across three lanes to the right and was about to move over to the last lane and stop, then I noticed a police car behind me with flashing lights.

By this time I stopped in the right lane. The police officer came to my car and I immediately asked if I had done something wrong. He was very petulant and yelled “you did not stop for the ambulance.” I tried to explain to him that as I was in the furthest left lane and it took some time to move across four lanes of roadway to stop in the right lane. I had to be aware of other motorists around me who also needed time to react to the change in the flow of traffic. He abruptly demanded my licence and registration which I handed over to him. I also noted to him that he was obviously in a ‘bad mood’.

After about twenty minutes, he returned to my car and asked: “Do you want the lecture or the ticket?” I replied that I wanted to know what I had done wrong. It was apparent to me that his demeanour had changed; he had calm down and his approach was more professional. He explained that as per the new Highway and Traffic legislation (about 5 years), I should have stopped at the nearest curb on a divided highway. This would mean that I should have stopped in the left lane rather than move over to the right lane. I informed him that when I did Drivers’ Training twenty years ago, I was told to pull over to the right and that was what I was doing. He then ripped up the ticket which was $491.00. I told him that while I was grateful that he had decided to revoke the charges, I would have challenged him in court about the ticket. We ended our conversation on a professional note after I had noted his name.

The beginning of this experience reminded me why people in my community have expressed a lack of confidence, trust and reliance on the police. While my experience ended in a pleasant way, I am aware it could have been different. When I relayed my experience to a colleague, she mentioned “I hope that you do not get something in the mail after the fact.” When she said that several things went through my mind: firstly, she also distrusted the police; secondly what if her thought was correct? If she was correct, then I would not even have the opportunity to challenge the police and that would even be more distressing. I did not ask the police officer for his badge number, and I can only recall his last name. If I contacted the local police, how could I identify police officer I had the interaction with? If I did contact the police would it make any difference? Three days later, I am still contemplating making a call to follow up.

To explore my options and to educate myself about the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, I went to the Ministry of Transportation website to look up the changes to the Highway Traffic Act. This is what I found:

Reacting to an approaching emergency vehicle - WHAT TO DO: On a multi-lane highway (max. 100km/h speed limit)

Slow down, signal and move to the right. If possible, pull as close as you can to the right side of the roadway and stop when safe to do so. Do not move onto the shoulder.

On a two-lane road

Signal and move to the right. Pull as close as possible to the right edge of the road, clear of any intersection, and stop. (

Was this a case of police error or was it racial profiling? Although our police commissioner has denied racial profiling; it is happening more than we realize and negatively impacting the lives of people of colour. As the mother of children of colour, especially males, I am extremely concerned for their safety and encounter with the police. The handling of the Trayvan Martin incident in Florida demonstrates the fears of many parents of colour. The constant worry that your children will not be treated fairly and could be killed by the establishment that is supposed to protect him/her can be frustrating and disempowering. The 2007 Paul Boyd incident in Vancouver, Canada and the police treatment of protesters at the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada are examples of police actions that demonstrate that we should ALL be concerned. It would be remiss if I did not say that the police for the most part do an amazing job of protecting our communities. Unrelated incidents like these mentioned in this post, however, give the police a negative reputation. It only takes one police officer not having a good day and making a poor decision when interacting with the public or even a group of police officers acting on certain prejudices, stereotypes and beliefs they hold about a sector of the population to cause a stain on the entire force. It is the case of "one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch."


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    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Steve, thanks for your comment. This is interesting because the perception is that minorities get harrassed by the police than white people. It is interesting that as a while male, you are feeling some trepidation about the police.

      I suppose age, class and race are areas where police harrassment intersects. Where young males feel that they are at risk of police harrassment. I still believe that black males are the most vulnerable.

      As long as there are crime, there will be those who regard the police in a negative light, however, this does not negate the notion that the police sometimes behave in inappropriate ways.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Rufus89, thanks for your visit and your comment. I can appreciate that your father might be one of the great police officers that do serve and protect our communities. But as I said in my post there are some police officers who create a negative attitude through their interaction with the public and that reflects badly on the police force.

      It is true that people sometimes negatively respond to authority figures for whatever reasons. It is also true that the police encounter many instances when their safety is at risk. However, the police should be able to analyse the circumstance and act appropiately. There is no need to be rude and aggressive to a person who obviously is cooperative.

      It is NEVER ok to break the law, despite the fact that some laws are contradictory and confusing. The speed limit is there for a reason and if everyone disregard the rule, then it would become chaotic on our roads. The point is our police officers, being citizens themselves, should treat the public accordingly. No one dispute that the police provide an important role in our communities, the problem is when the polce think that they are above the law and that they can treat citizens in a rude and disrespectful way.

    • Steve Orion profile image

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      I don't know that that particular circumstance had something to do with race, at least from what I've read; you probably know better. In any case, it does happen at an alarmingly high rate, unfortunately.

      Race aside, I, as an 18 year old white male, still feel uneasy about police. Ever since age 15 I've been a night owl, sleeping in the afternoon and being very active at night, even working then. In my general experience, it doesn't take much for police to get nosey, and it is a shame that this perception has been instilled in me, as, no matter if I am at risk for being in trouble, I am always uneasy around police. It is probably worse for a minority, so I can only imagine. Good Hub, rated up, and its nice to come across your writings!

    • Rufus89 profile image

      Rufus89 5 years ago from USA, New Mexico

      As a son of a police officer of 27 years, I say that it's not correct to slump all law enforcement officers into the "bad" category.

      My father may be a rare exception because he is a great man and a great example of how police officers should be.

      I just always feel that people dislike cops because they get caught doing illegal things. Not to argue, but for the sake of my opinion: ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for not following the law. I think that happens a lot with people and to be honest, there are a lot of officers who give people breaks when they shouldn't.

      The speed limit says 40mph. Not 40-45mph. Going 5mph over is still speeding. It may seem redicilous for a cop to pull you over for only going 5mph over. Maybe it is it maybe it isn't. It's that attitude that is wrong when we accept that it's OK to break the law, even if it's just a little bit. If we say that, we're opening the door to grey morality that is ruining this world.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Lily Luna, thanks for your visit and your comment. It is frustrating because you can appreciate that the police has to do his/her job, even if that is to our inconvenience. I think the problem is when it happens too frequently, then your son might believe that he's been targeted.

      The questions then become, how do we educate our children to interact with the police under these situation? How do make sure that they understand their rights? Do they have a right to refuse being searched?

      The other thing is, if the police approach young men the way I was approached the other morning, then I can understand how the situation can easily get out of hand and escalate. I'm not sure what police are being taught in terms of customer service and how to approach the public.

      I am also unsure how to tell my children to behave when they're pulled over by a disrespectful police officer. I suppose all I can tell them is treat them the way you would treat an irate person - be calm. But also know your right.

    • Lily Luna profile image

      Lorri Woodmansee 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Thank you for this article.

      Lately, my son has been pulled over several times. They never have a traffic related reason, the new line is 'your description matches an incident that happened nearby, can I search your car?' The latest was 'can I frisk you'. My son has never been involved in robbery, violence or the like. He had a couple drug related misdemeanors for possession but no priors related to dealing or distributing.

      Frankly, I'm at a loss of what to tell him. I want him to trust the police but their actions are telling him otherwise.