Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The answer to what policing is really about

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There are lots of reasons why being a cop is a great job.

The increasing presence of guns on the street, shift work, the horror of accident scenes, and yes, media scrutiny are not among them, of course.

But if it weren't rewarding work, you wouldn't hear about the sons and daughters of Winnipeg Police Service officers -- including Chief Keith McCaskill's own -- following their parents' paths into policing where the pay is good, the pensions are substantial, and the work is ever-changing and challenging.

While all of those are good reasons for joining the police service, they're not the answer I always listen for when I ask young people who want to become cops a simple, but fundamental question.

Why?

I was reminded of that question -- and the answer I always hope to hear -- after a reader emailed a story about something that happened earlier this month. To honour her family's privacy, I'll call her Anne.

In the course of dropping off her 13-year-old daughter on a Saturday for a dance class at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, she chanced upon the start of the local Parkinson Society SuperWalk -- a coincidence with added meaning because her father has Parkinson's disease.

Later that evening, her father, who likes to maintain as normal a life as possible, decided to treat his granddaughter and a couple of her friends to the movie The Dark Knight Rises at Silver City Polo Park. Anne drove, while her mother stayed behind in their River Heights condo to bake a pie.

It's a long movie, too long as it turned out. For the first hour-and-a-half, her dad seemed to be enjoying himself.

Then he leaned over and told Anne to call and ask her mom to pick him up.

His legs were seizing up. And he was in the grip of excruciating pain.

Anne explained to her daughter what was happening and where she was going, but as she took her dad's arm and they started down the stairs it became even more apparent how much distress he was in. With each step, he reached out for the support of the next shoulder in the next aisle seat.

It was just as they reached the landing at the bottom of the stairs when Anne felt a hand on her own shoulder. A man who had been situated in the middle of a row with his girlfriend had left his seat to offer his support.

To reassure her, he introduced himself as an off-duty police officer.

"I told him we would be moving very slowly and he would end up missing most of the rest of the movie, but he said he didn't mind helping my dad safely to the front doors of the theatre and making sure he was OK and did not fall and hurt himself if his legs really gave out."

Patrol Sgt. Doug Onagi did more than that, though.

He stayed with Anne's father in the lobby, and, with the assistance of Silver City staff, kept him moving.

By that time, Onagi's girlfriend, Kelli Mandzuik, had joined them, and soon after Anne's mother arrived.

"Officer Onagi told me to go back into the theatre to join my kids and that they would follow my mom and dad safely home."

Following them home was his girlfriend's idea.

"I was awestruck," Anne said.

So were her parents.

"My mom and dad were beside themselves with gratitude, and my mom does what she always does when someone does her a nice turn -- she gave Officer Ogani and his girlfriend a delicious pie."

Silver City also gave the couple a pair of passes so they could finish seeing the movie.

Last week, I got to sit down with 40-year-old Doug Onagi and hear why he did what he did.

"I just saw someone who needed some help," he said. "That's the way I was raised."

Then he gave me something he had written about the incident after I asked if he would pose for a photograph.

In the course of declining, and initially preferring to remain anonymous, Onagi wrote this:

"I don't want people to get the impression that this is something rare, or walk away thinking, 'Wow,' there are a couple of good cops after all. We do these types of things every day. I would have done the same thing if I was a teacher, a CEO or unemployed. When it comes to the police, we hear it often; 'That's their job.' We hear it from the public, the press and even our own organization. It's not our job. It's who we are as people."

As for why he decided to become a police officer, I didn't even have to ask. He volunteered the answer.

The answer I always hope to hear when I ask young people why they want to be police officers.

"...to help people," he said.

 

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2012 B1

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Updated on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 9:16 AM CDT: new headline

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