The police get a bad rap in the media, usually in high profile events like the recent worldwide 'Occupy' kerfuffle, including here in Melbourne, where they got their share of a caning in the media for use of excessive force. Or else they come to attention with stories of corruption, or incompetence etc. I can't speak for the experience that others have with their own police forces around the world, which I'm sure run the gamut from brutal lackeys of the corrupt elite, through to righteous upholders of the law, but I can speak of our own Victoria Police in a positive light.
Being an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, I have not really had much to do with the police, but realise that they have a hell of a job having to deal with the fall-out of society's ills. Incidents that must have far-reaching impacts on those involved like car accidents, violence, drunkenness, theft and the like, are grist to their mill and generally go unnoticed except by those involved.
An incident happened in our street over the weekend that left me full of admiration for our boys (and girls) in blue.
Saturday night saw a mentally disturbed man decide to make his way home across the rooftops of the homes on the western side of our street in an action resembling a human/possum hybrid. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, breaking tiles as he went, he attracted a crowd of scared, angry neighbours. If he'd timed his run later he may have got away with it, but as it was relatively early most of the neighbourhood hadn't gone to bed yet. As it was, the street filled with have-a-go-heroes yelling threats and encouraging violence, while Possum-Man returned the love. Luckily some of the more sensible neighbours called the police who arrived fairly quickly and soon had the situation under control, telling the onlookers to go home and reassuring the elderly Greek couple on whose roof Possum-Man was ensconced. Then the hard work started.
The negotiation started with the man on the roof insisting that he wouldn't come down until he'd found his wallet, which he'd lost in his rooftop jaunt. He was adamant he wouldn't come down until the police had given him a torch with which he could search for the missing wallet. The police were equally adamant that they couldn't help him with his request and that he needed to get down off the roof. Many threats and insults and other invective were hurled at the cops over the next few hours while the police calmly but firmly stuck to their position and proceeded to wear down his resolve.
As this happened right across the street from us, it wasn't something that we could very well ignore, and with the volume of noise the fellow was making and his increased agitation, I felt that this was going to end badly with the police forced to use capsicum spray or tasers or else with the chap carrying out his threats to jump. Either way I thought it'd end up with him more or less involuntarily on the concrete after a fall of over 2.5 metres. After a previous experience with a drug addled nong flinging himself from the building I worked in, I wasn't relishing the thought of a similar thing happening where I lived, and feared the re-occurrence of flashbacks that had made life difficult a few years ago.
The police kept talking to him and after a brief flurry of action when the guy charged off to find his wallet on another roof, they eventually coaxed him down. The emotional toll of keeping up his angry rant began to tell as he alternated between extreme anger, lucid conversation and bouts of weeping. Eventually, even he realised that he couldn't stay there forever and after getting a promise from the negotiator that he would be allowed to look for his wallet under supervision after surrendering, which he got them to repeat while filming it on his camera.
After allowing himself to be cuffed, he then decided that he'd made a mistake and started struggling and roaring again, resulting in his being forcibly restrained, face down on the road. Needless to say, he didn't get to look for his wallet! He was eventually bundled into a divvy van (one of 3 police vehicles in the street!) and carted off. Tellingly, at no stage did a Crisis Assessment Team arrive to take over the negotiations, or even assist, despite the fact that the man admitted he'd not taken his medication and that he was 'crazy'. It's a sad indictment of the mental health system that the underfunded services cannot cope and that the police are the first line of mental health care.
Ten to fifteen years ago there was a spate of fatal police shootings of people in the grips of psychotic episodes in Victoria, so obviously there has been a lot of work put into training for non-violent resolution of these types of situations, and in this instance it paid off in spades.
So a happy ending to a difficult situation deserves a bit of recognition!