The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we live, work and play. But, we are finding new and interesting ways to carry out our everyday functions, from attending class to spending time with family and friends. For those who are still employed, the way they perform their duties has also changed, and this is especially true when it comes to our frontline workers.
To celebrate National Police Week, May 10 – 16, and to honour our alumni who have become police officers, we talked to three graduates of the Police Foundations program – South Simcoe Police constables Keith Causton (2018) and Wazeer Rahiman (2018), and OPP Const. Chris Simmons (2012) – about this new normal and how Georgian prepared them.
How did Georgian prepare you for the reality of being a police officer?
Const. Keith Causton: Going through the program, knowing the courses that I took, the teachers there, what backgrounds they had, and looking back after I completed the program, I can tell you that Georgian has a lot more to offer, from my perspective, than other colleges. I really think I had a good pulse on what the next step was after my college diploma, which is when you get hired and go off to Ontario Police College. I found that the content Georgian taught was the perfect foundation to go into policing college because there was no gap or unexpected content. Everything was familiar to me and it made sense.
Const. Wazeer Rahiman: For most of the policing that I’m doing, I’m following what I learned in Police Foundations at Georgian. It’s something I’m so proud of and I’m so glad I took the program with Georgian because I never expected that a college could give so much.
Const. Chris Simmons: Georgian prepared me in a lot of ways. Simple things like learning 10-codes to creating crown briefs and writing search warrants. We were also introduced to both federal and provincial statutes. Physically, we were able to run some tests that are required to get hired, and were exposed to where our fitness level needs to be. We had a number of teachers who had a lot of experience, including some who were officers at the time. We were able to hear a lot of stories and get real firsthand knowledge of what it takes to get hired and do the job.
How has your role as a police officer changed since COVID-19?
Const. Keith Causton: I was the only South Simcoe Police Service recruit to go through the September intake of police college last year. So, here I am, the police service’s newest recruit, and this is truly an unprecedented time. Nobody has been through anything like this. Police college prepared me the way they’ve been preparing recruits for decades. Then, I began training with my coach officer just before the pandemic hit, and when I started to be on my own, it was like hitting the reset button because of COVID-19. As a recruit and a rookie, you want to do lots of traffic stops. You want to get exposure to dealing with all types of people in all types of situations. You want to hit the ground running and put yourself out there in a safe way. But, now that there’s this pandemic, you kind of back up a little bit. You don’t want to do anything unnecessary, keeping in mind public safety. The requirement is still do your job when needed. You can’t ignore all the things that take place but you just go about it in a different way.
Const. Wazeer Rahiman: Like all other jobs, we are taking extra precautions when it comes to dealing with people. It’s not only for our safety, but the safety of the public, as well. We are dealing with many individuals. We need to make sure we have the masks on, depending on the calls. Another thing is we’re trying to handle non-emergency calls on the phone. Since COVID-19 and all these lockdowns have happened, we’ve been getting more domestic-related calls and mental health-related calls. We knew that it would be coming, but I wasn’t expecting the numbers to increase that much. Obviously, we have to attend these calls and make sure people are OK. COVID-19 has affected a lot more individuals than we expected.
Const. Chris Simmons: The pandemic has changed things in that there is significantly less traffic on the roads and pedestrians walking so there are less officer-generated occurrences. Calls for service haven’t slowed down. We are still responding to hundreds of calls a day including domestic and mental health calls. We now have to respond to COVID-19 calls and educate people on the new rules and regulations.
How did your program at Georgian prepare you for working in this new era?
Const. Keith Causton: One of the essential competencies of police officers and what recruiters look for, is flexibility. That competency comes up time and time again through various courses. You have to really understand what that means. Policing is a really good example, although not the only one, where you’re told one thing and then, a few weeks later, there’s a new law or new way to do something. That’s the reality of policing. Now, I understand the true importance of flexibility, and my first exposure to that was at Georgian.
Const. Wazeer Rahiman: One thing I learned from Georgian is the importance of community policing and the importance of mental health in policing, and being aware of the situation and how to deal specifically with mental health-type calls. What we learned from school is you can be nice and still police the community. You can actually change the community’s mentality and try to reduce the number of calls. You can build that relationship with the community.
How has the tragic death of RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson affected you?
Const. Keith Causton: Something like this really forces police officers to stop and think that this is not an isolated situation; this could really happen anywhere. As a new officer, it’s a sobering reminder that you can’t be complacent on the job. No matter how exciting it might be, no matter how exhilarating it might be, for the high points, there’s always the low points. You’ve got to treat it the same way and you’ve got to treat the job with the utmost respect. You’ve got to be vigilant.
Const. Wazeer Rahiman: When it comes to policing, you just have to be ready for everything. The knowledge about mental health issues, when it comes to policing, is a big thing. When you go to work, this is part of your job. When you deal with kids who have mental health issues or when you’re taking someone away from their family, or doing anything related to policing, you have to have the mentality that at the end of the day you’re going to come home to your family. I got that advice from my coach officer: “Every day, come to work and say, ‘At the end of the day, I’m going to go home to my family.’”
Const. Chris Simmons: The loss of any officer with any service is felt strong amongst us all. There was a sense of sadness at the office after Const. Stevenson was killed because ultimately, we know it could have been here and could have been any one of us. It makes you think about things a little more to ensure your safety and the safety of your colleagues, especially given that in this instance, the alleged shooter looked exactly like another officer. As a shift, we know we all have to have each other’s backs and look out for one another to ensure we all go home every day.