Defining Real Police Work

By Sergeant David S. Rektor

West Region OPP Headquarters

Published April 1, 2015

Have you ever wondered what truly defines “real” police work? I do every day and so do those who pay the salaries of every police officer in Ontario. Trying to find the answer to this question is like trying to find the Holy Grail if you ask those charged with running a police organization.

The Police Services Act (PSA) mandates the core functions of policing to be:

(1)   Crime Prevention,

(2)   Law Enforcement,

(3)   Assisting Victims of Crime,

(4)   Emergency Response, and

(5)   Public Order Maintenance.

Well, that sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If it were that simple, then why are police budgets being trimmed and police continually asked to do more with less?

You will hear many different answers to that question, depending upon who you ask in your organization. Is the Traffic Unit officer who issues hundreds of tickets each month doing “real” police work? No one questions the fact that traffic safety is a serious issue for public safety organizations. Hundreds of people die every year in Ontario in traffic collisions caused by poor driving behavior. The five core functions of policing could very well be applied to traffic enforcement.

Perhaps “real” police work is better defined by the work of officers assigned to the Crime Unit. After all, there are many crimes committed every year that require skillful investigations to solve. Perhaps this is where the “real” police work is being done? Like the Traffic Unit, the five core functions of policing outlined in the PSA certainly apply to the work done in the Crime Unit.

But I’m still not satisfied that this is where “real” police work is being done. After all, it doesn’t matter how many tickets our police service issues or the number of crimes we solve, each year it seems those who control the purse strings still ask us to tighten our belts and demand we can become more efficient. I’m not sure they even know what “real” police work is. They would have to see our work through the eyes of those we serve to truly appreciate what we do.

Our challenge is to show others what “real” police work really is. Sadly, many officers forget why they chose a policing career in the first place, eventually becoming cynical and complacent in their day-to-day interaction with the public. Some develop an “us” and “them” mentality, forgetting that the main reason we became law enforcement officers was to serve and protect citizens.

We have all worked with that officer who has handed out five tickets to someone at a traffic stop only to later laugh and brag about how pleased they were with themselves. Perhaps we have even been that officer at one point or another. Now don’t get me wrong. There are always some circumstances that warrant powerful and meaningful enforcement. We all know officers who will drive through subdivisions and never unroll their window or get out of their car to say “hello”. Sadly, these officers provide the wrong example of what many think “real” police work is. Why do so many people accuse the police of having a ticket quota to meet each month? Who are the officers who create the public perception that police are overpaid? The answer is simple. From time-to-time, we are all guilty of giving them the wrong impression of what “real” police work truly is.

I had a stark reminder of this while scrolling through my personal Facebook account. I saw a photo of a police cruiser stopped in the middle of a township road with its lights flashing and a few people in a ditch. It was a cold, wintry scene. An article from the Haldimand-Norfolk SNAP Magazine entitled “What’s going on here? Community policing at its finest, that’s what” included a photo (below) taken by Denise and Ron Goobie of Norwich, ON. The article described an officer who stopped his cruiser in the middle of the road to help a young child retrieve her hat, which had blown off during strong winds while she was getting off a school bus. The child was in a panic because of the traffic and was unable to retrieve her hat. So what did OPP Officer Kevin York do? He stopped traffic with his cruiser and helped the young girl get her hat back. The article went on to say, “What a WONDERFUL experience for the child – to come to know the OPP as helpful, considerate, kind, and caring. It’s the type of community policing we applaud.”



This is what “real” police work looks like. It’s the small things that we should be doing that make a difference each and every day. Every police agency should be striving for this kind of unsolicited kudos. I know we do this, but we need to remind ourselves daily of the important impact achieved by doing the small things right.

I’m not diminishing our other responsibilities, but the so-called “simple things” we do every day have a significant impact on how people perceive “real” police work. You can argue this all the way to the bank, but I can’t remember of an instance in which an incident involving a cop handing out a ticket or making an arrest that captured social media attention in the way Officer York’s actions did. Clearly the child, the couple taking the photo, and the editor of Haldimand-Norfolk SNAP Magazine all thought this was something rather unusual. Though I’m glad they made such a big deal about it, I’m a little sad they had to.