Human Interest – Police – Sports
Updated: date
Published: September 27, 2016

Cop with a big heart and a good punch saves raccoon

Writing from Montreal

Montreal policewoman Kasandra Galarneau seen comforting the raccoon she rescued from the middle of a busy street on the slope of Mount Royal Park near downtown Montreal.

Police officer Kasandra Galarneau is the epitome of maternal care as she lovingly pets a raccoon she rescued from traffic while he slurps his way through a blueberry smoothie laid out for him on the sidewalk under a blazing mid-morning September sun.

Galarneau, 24 and less than two years on the Montreal police force, patrols a lot of territory from her post at Station 20, which covers downtown Montreal and Mount Royal Park, a 200-hectare oasis of verdancy built on an extinct volcano, which is Montreal’s highest spot, boasting a lookout 234 metres high.

Rocky (my unoriginal nickname for him) could not have picked a better spot to be rescued than Cedar Avenue, which runs in front of the Montreal General Hospital and on the side of Mount Royal – which just happens to be on Galarneau’s run. So there she was in a flash after receiving a call in her patrol car that a citizen had reported a raccoon in the middle of Cedar Avenue, trapped by two-way traffic and falling over when he tried to walk away.

When I arrived on the scene a few minutes later, Galarneau had already stopped traffic to pick up about 40 pounds of Rocky in her arms and carry him to safety on the sidewalk. At 5 foot, 8 inches and 125 pounds, Galarneau may look like a delicate, willowy blonde model, but don’t be fooled: she’s a throwback to the coureurs des bois, those hardy French fur traders of the 17th and 18th century who explored much of North America, opening trade routes all the way down to New Orleans and Mobile on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Just ask her boxing coach, Francis Lafrenière, himself Canadian middleweight boxing champion and International Boxing Federation champion in the 160-pound weight class. “She’s a good boxer,” Lafrenière told me in a telephone interview. She has a good right hand that can put unsuspecting opponents to sleep, what’s known in French as “la force de frappe.”

PHOTO: TC Média/Steve Sauvé
Canadian middleweight boxing champion Francis Lafrenière, seen posing with his star boxing student Kasandra Galarneau.

She’s been training (along with six other women) at Club de Boxe Lafrenière in St. Clet (about 30 miles west of Montreal) for 1 ½ years, two or three times per week, 90 minutes per session. She’s an all-around athlete who runs, lifts weights and plays defense in a women’s hockey league.

Of two amateur bouts in 2015, she won one on points and the second by knockout. Her coach describes her as “hard working and nice,” but says once in the ring, she is “a rough character.”

Lafrenière wants to schedule more bouts for Galarneau, but time is tight these days because of her heavy police workload, he tells me. When I ask whether she comes from an athletic family, he says he doesn’t know because “she isn’t much of a talker”.

But on Rocky Raccoon Rescue Day, Galarneau is all smiles when I ask about the effort she made not only to save Rocky, but to make sure he was going to be checked out and returned to his home on nearby Mount Royal.

Rocky loves his smoothie

She tells me she thinks Rocky was sideswiped by a car while crossing the road earlier, which explained why he kept falling down when trying to make his way to the sidewalk and back into the nearby protective forest bordering the slope of Mount Royal. But now as we observe Rocky finishing off his smoothie, he seems to have come to his senses and is walking well, with no apparent injury to his paws.

In fact, he is becoming so frisky that Galarneau worries he will amble back on to the road. So once again – unlike any other woman I know – she scoops up this docile, muscular raccoon with ease and gently places him on the back seat of her cruiser.

Rocky Raccoon taking a rest from his smoothie splurge with his new best ‘bud’, policewoman Kasandra Galarneau.

She volunteers that this is the first time she has ever been called to rescue an animal, adding that she has a German Shepherd as a pet, what she calls a “classic” breed of dog. Galarneau, a 2010 honours student who studied police technology in a three-year course at English-language John Abbott College, switches effortlessly between her French mother tongue and English.

As we wait for an SPCA truck to arrive so Rocky can be checked out for what appears to have been a concussion, I think of the daily headlines I hear and see from our American neighbors, concerning the numerous shootings of civilians by law enforcement officers in that country.

Fire first, question later

The Washington Post published a story on December 26, 2015, citing 965 civilians fatally shot by American police officers in 2015. Newfoundland math professor Tom Baird, who also writes a column for The online news publication, estimated in an April 14, 2015 article – based on available statistics – that 25 civilians are shot and killed annually by police forces across Canada. Fatal police shootings in Europe, Australia and Japan are much lower than even that, he reported.

PHOTO: iStock/Mihajlo Maricic
The United States has the highest per capita shooting rate of civilians by police compared with any other country in the Western world.

Taking into account that the U.S. population is 10 times greater than that of Canada’s, there is still a tremendous discrepancy between the two neighboring countries in the per capita ratio of incidents in which police use deadly force.

Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says the problem with American police forces is a lack of funding to train officers in the emotional and psychological aspects of using force and to sensitize them about the social consequences on police-community relations when they do end up using deadly force on civilians.

In a 2014 interview with journalist Paul Waldman and published by The American Prospect, Haberfeld said U.S. police training “is focused completely on the technical aspect of the use of deadly force.”

Average training of police in the U.S. is 15 weeks, Haberfeld said in the 2014 interview. “Fifteen weeks is nothing. Police forces in other countries have twice, three times as long training as we have here….We are saving money on police training, saying that it's very expensive to have longer training. And I think it's irresponsible in a democratic society to say that a profession that has the authority to use deadly force, we just should shorten the training because a longer training is too expensive. Basically, what we're doing is putting a dollar sign on people's lives, both police officers and members of the public.”

 The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says in addition to the basic recruit training cited above, American police trainees receive an additional eight weeks of field training, but Haberfeld told me in a September 26, 2016 email interview that only the larger American police departments can afford field training.

“The small ones, which constitute over 90 percent of the police departments around the country, mostly cannot even afford field training because they have too few officers,” Haberfeld said, citing Finland and Ireland as two of the countries with the best training models for police.

Finland is tops for cops

The Police College of Finland offers (in Finnish and Swedish) a three-year bachelor’s degree in policing, as well as a master’s degree in policing and further specialized studies. Both Finland and Ireland have also introduced more integrated training that requires interaction with professionals dealing with the psychological aspects of using force.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Maria Haberfeld
Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, is an author and expert in the training methods of police forces worldwide.

The Irish Times published a story on April 23, 2015 pointing out that police training in Ireland, which dates back to 1786, started a new BA in Applied Policing in 2014 based on problem-based learning. It has been accredited by the Law School at the University of Limerick. The Irish Times further reported that the new training embedded human rights and ethical policing as a core program outcome. “It ensures that ethics, human rights, values and community are considered in the management of all policing situations,” the newspaper said.

In the U.S., police training varies from state to state, but college or university diplomas are not mandatory. However, some federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Air Marshal Service, do require a three- or four-year undergraduate diploma from a college or university accredited by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The standards for police training in Canada also vary from province to province, but Haberfeld told that the Canadian “training approaches are considered to be among the best in the world.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force, has a 26-week training program at the RCMP Academy in Regina, but unlike some police forces in Canada, it requires candidates only to have a high school leaving certificate; not a college or university diploma.

The Ontario Provincial Police has a 20-week training program, and, like the RCMP, requires potential recruits to have only a high school leaving certificate.

Quebec knows how

Quebec has higher academic standards specifically geared towards police work, requiring those wishing to join any police force in the province to take a three-year police technology program at a recognized college and then pass a 15-week training program at the National Police Academy of Quebec (NPAQ) in Nicolet, 95 miles northeast of Montreal.

PHOTO: Friends of the Mountain/S. Montigny
Children frolic near Beaver Lake in Mount Royal Park, a 200-hectare oasis of verdancy created on an extinct volcano near the centre of Montreal.

NPAQ spokeswoman Andrée Doré told in separate September 23, 2016 phone and email interviews that the three-year police technology programs in Quebec colleges offer 1,665 hours of training, followed by 485 more hours at NAPQ if the students are subsequently accepted into that institution.

Dorée emphasized that NPAQ cadets are drilled about techniques and protocols in dealing with civilians suffering from mental health issues. The NPAQ modules employ case studies, as well as theoretical and interactive exercises for dealing with such scenarios. As part of their training, the NPAQ uses what Doré calls the “national model” favored by police forces across Canada to determine under what circumstances the use of deadly force is justified.

“They’re (police cadets) taught that the choice to use deadly force should only be made after the situation has been analyzed, taking into account the behavior of the subject and tactical considerations,” Dorée said, adding that the objective is to teach police cadets how to de-escalate a tense situation through communication and, if necessary, through the use of non-lethal force to subdue the subject.

As I and Agent Galarneau continue to await the SPCA’s arrival, I mull over the irony that this animal rescue operation is taking place near the slope of Mount Royal Park, which was designed by famous 19th century American landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, who also planned New York City’s Central Park, along with architect Calvert Vaux.

Olmsted (1822-1903) lived in an era of massive transformation of North American society from rural, agricultural communities into predominantly urban, industrialized living spaces. A descendent of the New England Pilgrims, Olmsted battled to make natural green spaces available to poor people within urban settings in an effort to compensate for the onerous employment and living conditions of workers during and immediately after the Industrial Revolution.

Poor get shot more

It is from the same lower socio-economic class that Olmsted tried to help that most current victims of fatal police shootings originate, often as a result of despair or fear, stereotypes and poor communication.

Professor Haberfeld told me that the real cause for the plethora of police shootings in the U.S. is inadequate training and the burgeoning prevalence of guns on the streets, which makes police officers ever more fearful for their lives.

However, in a July 13, 2016 interview published by The Atlantic, Donald Grady II, a retired police chief with the City of Santa Fe, N.M. and later at Northern Illinois University, said the underlying cause of multiple shootings by U.S. police officers is bad recruitment, rather than bad training.

“This is not a training issue,” Grady II told journalist Juleyka Lantigua-Williams. “This is an issue of who it is that we’ve decided we would allow to police our country,” citing his theory that police forces are hiring candidates who have aggressive personalities, rather than seeking out “more cerebral, more sensitive, empathetic, rational” people with college or university training.

A happy ending for Rocky Raccoon, who was rescued from traffic, got to enjoy a blueberry smoothie and was later returned to his habitat in Mount Royal Park.

“We’re screening in people that are too aggressive and less cerebral,” he said in The Atlantic interview.  In a previous July 9, 2016 interview with the same journalist and magazine, Grady II, who happens to be black, said police are especially aggressive when dealing with minorities. “That’s not an illusion on the part of minority communities,” he said. “That’s real,” citing “numerous” times he was stopped when out of uniform by police claiming unjustifiably that they suspected he had committed some kind of violation with his car.

As I consider how difficult and dangerous are the challenges faced by police officers these days, I can’t help but think that both Haberfeld and Grady II are touching upon core issues underlying the myriad of fatal shootings by police across America. Upon taking leave of Agent Galarneau for my nearby hospital appointment, I ask whether I can call her later to inquire about Rocky. She gives me her number at the police station and says to leave a message if she is not there and she will call back.

True to her word, she calls back within minutes later the same day with the happy tidings that Rocky Raccoon has received a clean bill of health and has been returned to his habitat in Mount Royal Park to be reunited with his presumed family.

In my mind, I give thanks for Rocky’s good fortune and for my own in living in a country with strict gun controls where the overwhelming majority of police officers are well trained and, like Kasandra Galarneau, are dedicated to protecting the public, (including our four-footed friends), showing respect and keeping their promises.

© Warren Perley. All Rights Reserved. Publication by 2012-2024.
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