Hurtful comments about law enforcement

We receive every week messages regarding my blog, most of them being positive, thankful and heartwarming. This week was no different, except for a message that I share with permission, making me reflect on the many sides to an issue, and how sensitive we must always be. Please read, see my response, and reflect.  


I am writing to express my disappointment and concern at your negative police comments in your COVID-19 Report for January 15th. I am an Ontario RN who happens to be married to a police officer. The wording you chose such as “an excuse to torment” minorities “once again” seem to imply that police are looking and waiting for an excuse to hurt minorities. You also call on nurses to “be watching” law enforcement for this behaviour. I am hoping that I am misinterpreting how you intended this message. If so, I encourage you to clarify what you do mean.

The stay-at-home order issued by Mr. Ford does not actually give law enforcement any more power. It is all appearances meant to scare people into compliance. This is the very last thing that police officers want. They have been trying (though not recognized for doing so) to mend paths to marginalized people. This order sets any progress made in this area way back. People trust police and cooperate with police even less. This is not the choice of law enforcement.

I have noticed a very anti-police rhetoric in multiple of your COVID reports. I have been very upset by this. Nurses and police work in partnership. Here in [region], we have Crisis Outreach and Support (Coast) and the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team where officers work side by side with nurses to help people in crisis. I worked in the ER for almost 4 years here in [region]. I depended on police. They came to our rescue many times. Your words have created conflict in this much needed partnership. It compromises patient care.

I encourage you to speak with police officers and understand what this pandemic has been like for them. Every shift is filled with trauma. What they see in a single shift would cause the average person to need therapy for the rest of their lives. Every day, while facing the worst that this world has to offer, they do it while people scream at them, call them pigs, and call them racists. The news vilifies them. They are told every day, that they are not heroes. They are told that they are terrible people. Even the advertisements thanking first responders now are so careful not to show pictures of police. No one is clanging pots and pans in their honour. This is a group of people that nurses should be advocating for instead they are the one group of front-line workers that you seem to want us to work against. They need support not divisive words. Instead of casting blame, why not advocate for them to have the resources they need. Advocate for an expansion of the teams such as COAST. Advocate for mandatory sessions with psychologists for officers involved in any sort of traumatic call. Advocate for objective and fair investigations of police related incidents free from media bias.

It seems very easy to talk about policing and systemic racism. Everything they do is public. They show up when people are in crisis with almost no resources. When I worked in the ER and had to call a code white, we had teams of people, including doctors and crisis nurses who would show up in a matter of seconds with sedation and bring control. Plus, no one had any cameras to show the public the 5-10 people who would be piled on top of that person, holding them down while injecting drugs into them against their will. It is so easy to judge. What is available to officers in the community at a moments notice? Of course, the system needs to change, but that doesn’t happen over night. In the meantime, officers have to continue to do the job that no one else is equipped to do right now.

What about systemic racism in the health care system and among nurses? Why are minorities suffering and dying of COVID 19 at shockingly higher rates than non-minorities? Systemic racism exists in every institution. Just like nurses, officers work in the world they were handed. Minorities are over-represented in the economically disadvantaged sectors of society. Crime, just like sickness, go hand in hand with poverty.  Such anti-police messaging just makes it harder for the divide between police and minorities to be bridged. It increases the distrust and the ability of police to help in a meaningful way. It increases the likelihood of escalation.

I have depended on RNAO through this pandemic. I have no nursing colleagues as I work in primary care. RNAO has been where I have gone to feel connected to others in my profession. I have depended on their advocacy for nurses and for their scientifically-based information during this infodemic.  Now I feel more isolated, alone and afraid than ever before. I am hoping that your words were not meant how they came across. I encourage you to make that clear to the many readers of your report.


[name], RN

My response: I sincerely appreciate the heartfelt message from [name]. I wrote to her immediately and thanked her deeply for reaching out to me and for her open and courageous communication. Dear [name], you have helped me reflect and learn on this challenging issue.

The way I framed my remarks on this matter in my earlier blog item were insensitive to the many police and law enforcement members, as well as police leadership, who are doing a sincere effort to reach out to racialized and marginalized communities and overcome the devastating history we are all aware of. Reflecting on your email, I fully agree that my remarks could make harder the critical collaboration that happens every day in multiple settings between health providers and law enforcement officers. That is a collaboration we should support, not undermine.  

The fact that there is still a lot of work to do to address systemic racism and much police transformation to advance, should not deter us for a second from acknowledging the essential work involved in policing, many times without the necessary training, resources and organizational preparedness that would facilitate and improve that work (particularly in the area of mental health crisis). Please know that I recognize and thank the work done by members of the police, such as your husband, who are trying to do the best they can under extremely challenging circumstances.

Dear [name], I think many readers will learn from your email, and I am grateful that you agreed for me to publish its content. RNAO has been active in raising discussion about racism and discrimination in healthcare, for example in our series on Let’s Talk about Anti-Black Racism and Discrimination in Nursing. I hear your encouragement for us to speak with police officers and discuss the work of law enforcement. We will seek opportunities to do so.

Please receive my regards and don't feel isolated. RNAO is committed to be there for you, and I am doubly committed given your personal email.