Rickter Scale: A knock on the door that echoes forever

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Rick Stiebel/Columnist

It’s the knock no one wants to deliver, the knock no one wants to hear.

Working with the RCMP for seven years impacted me not only as a journalist, but on a personal level as well. It changed perceptions of what’s involved in the day-to-day routine of law enforcement and, once a comfort zone of trust was established, provided an up-close insight into the challenges Mounties face and stare down without blinking.

Every member who spoke on and off the record agreed without a sliver of doubt that notifications of next of kin, or ‘noks’ as they call them, are as tough and gut-wrenching as it gets.

Imagine sitting around with your colleagues discussing last night’s game or sharing a few laughs over sandwiches in the lunchroom when you get the call that you are up. Someone, a stranger or maybe somebody you know has died, and you have to go notify the family.

I remember working at Royal Roads when it was a military college, just enjoying a coffee on the sun-splashed loading dock with the cooks I worked with. An RCMP cruiser pulled in and I was polishing up a smart-ass greeting before they even got out of the vehicle.

Although what I said elicited chuckles from my workmates, the grim expressions on the officers’ faces did not change one iota as they walked past us in silence. They were back within moments, each supporting an arm of our wailing, hysterical colleague, Terry, who had just been informed her 18-year-old son died after crashing the motorcycle he had just purchased.

I took a course at the West Shore detachment that dealt with delivering noks, as intense a one-day session as anything I’ve ever signed up for.

Something that stayed with me is that you can never know how someone else feels, there’s nothing you can read up on that prepares you for how people will react feel when they receive the devastating news.

The instructor, a former RCMP officer with a lot of experience in that regard, shared a story that really hammered home that point. He had to tell a young mother with two toddlers that her husband, the father of her children, died that morning on the way to work. She stood in silence for an agonizingly long time before blurting out, “Thank God that bastard will never beat me or the kids again.”

Another profession I gained a heap of respect before during my time with the Mounties are the folks who work in victim services. I can’t wrap my head around how they are able to summon the strength, compassion, empathy and understanding their work requires, or how they manage to unwind after a particularly brutal day of work.

We are all extremely fortunate that there are men and women in policing and related services able to handle what we cannot. Something to think about the next time you feel like launching on a cop for simply doing their job.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.

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