A common reaction to tragedy— that awful things don’t usually happen in quiet places — surely has to be exhausted by now.
The senseless killing of four people, including two police officers, in Fredericton, N.B., last week was the latest horrific incident to shock the nation.
It was also yet another example that terrible things like this can and do happen anywhere and at any time.
Const. Shawna Park of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in Corner Brook was working at a kids’ camp at Killdevil Lodge in Gros Morne National Park last week when she first heard the news out of New Brunswick.
Her first thoughts were of sadness for those killed and their families, friends and colleagues.
Any time someone in law enforcement loses their life in the line of duty it strikes a chord deep within the members involved in the profession, said Park.
“Our goal is to serve and protect the community and, when we are not able to protect the public, we feel the grief of the loss of those people,” she said in an interview about dealing with the aftermath of the Fredericton shootings.
“The law enforcement community is more or less a family. Whether we know them or not personally, a part of their personality and their traits are meshed within our own. So, for us, that loss is something we all feel.”
There are often just a few degrees of separation between members of the law enforcement profession, especially those working in the Atlantic Canada region. Park said she has seen social media posts by fellow officers who did training with at least one of the officers killed last week. Others know some of the Fredericton police officers who worked alongside slain officers Sara Burns and Robb Costello and are dealing with their deaths.
After the initial grief of hearing about fellow officers being murdered while responding to a call, said Park, the lessons learned during their extensive police training comes flooding back to her and her colleagues.
Even though they daily strap on a firearm and a duty belt full of tools they might need to protect the public or themselves, having to use those in a situation is not always at the forefront of an officer’s mind as they go about their work.
“We’re always vigilant and aware of a potential threat to the public and ourselves,” she said. “It’s not something you think about every day but, when someone loses their life in the line of duty, it kind of wakes it up for you.”
While Park is now the RNC’s media relations officer in Corner Brook, she has spent time on street patrol like every other officer has. In fact, she loves that aspect of police work and would have no problem returning to that sort of duty if that’s the path her career takes.
She said there are far more rewards than risks to being a police officer, whether it’s working with kids or even getting thanked for helping someone deal with a situation.
Still, worrisome events like those of last week are sharp reminders that police officers can never be complacent.
Often, mental health issues are at the root of situations to which the police are called. Adding the unpredictable elements of mental illness to the mix can put an officer’s training to the test.
“You never know, from one day to the next, what you’re going to encounter,” she said. “It might be one of the best days of our life or it might be one of the saddest.”