Content warning: loss of life
When RCMP Cst. Vishal Mohan responded to a call about a young mother caught stealing food from a Surrey, B.C., grocery store, he saw fairly quickly that she did it out of need, not want.
She was there with a stroller full of kids stealing a stick of butter and a carton of milk," says Mohan, who has worked as a general duty officer in Surrey for the last two years. "She wasn't a habitual shoplifter. She was just genuinely trying to feed her family."
Talking with the woman, he and his partner Cst. Archi Maleki, learned that she and her family had moved to Canada from India the year before and were struggling to make ends meet after her husband, the sole provider, was unable to work following a car accident.
I just saw my own mom in her – doing what she could to survive," says Mohan, who also immigrated from India with his parents as a child.
Wanting to help, Mohan and Maleki escorted the woman back inside to get the basic necessities for her and her kids, then paid her $80 grocery bill. "Sometimes you just need a little break," says Mohan.
The officers also put the woman in touch with B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development, which later provided financial assistance to the family.
Empathy in a moment of grief
Mohan says he's often inspired by the small acts of kindness shown by his colleagues like Cpl. Jason Ryan.
In October 2021, Mohan and Ryan responded to a call for the sudden death of a woman in her 90s. At the scene, officers arrived to find her very distraught husband. "
He thought she had fallen asleep at the table, which she'd done before," says Ryan, a 15-year member of the RCMP. It wasn't until sometime later, when he couldn't wake her, that he called 911.
When the paramedics found food in the woman's mouth, her husband blamed himself thinking she died by choking on the pork and sauerkraut dish he had cooked her. According to Ryan and Mohan, every time the man looked at the dirty dinner dishes, he became very upset.
He showed so much pain that he thought he did this to his wife. He kept saying 'If I had called earlier,' 'If I would have known', 'Could I have done more?'" says Ryan, who, upon seeing the man's anguish, suggested Mohan take the man to his bedroom to lie down. Then, Ryan washed and put away all the dishes by hand, despite the couple having a dishwasher.
I did it because it was a trigger for him," says Ryan. "
I didn't want him to have to look at them and be reminded of what happened."
Advice for young officers
Ryan says that learning to humanize a difficult situation and show empathy often comes with time.
In the beginning, you don't have much experience with death and it's very awkward," he says. "
You turn on police-officer mode and it's very cold."
He encourages his officers to imagine how they would want the police to treat their own family if the situation was reversed.
Mohan says he could relate to what he saw that day. "
They were this sweet German couple who couldn't have any kids and spent their whole lives together," says Mohan, who was a 911 dispatcher for five years before joining the RCMP. "
It made me think of me and my wife."
A human response
For officers, responding to grief can be a delicate and difficult task.
On a September evening in 2020, RCMP Cst. Celestin Tougas answered a call to the home of another elderly couple in British Columbia. Upon arriving, Tougas met a grieving widow whose husband had died suddenly while napping on the porch.
Tougas, who had been with the RCMP for only a year at the time, recalls that the woman was visibly in shock and unable to answer his questions. "
She had covered him up with a blanket and was lying down beside him and running her hands through his hair," says Tougas. "
It was sad, but beautiful."
After the body was taken away, Tougas stayed to help her make arrangements with the funeral home and even gave her his personal email address. "
We normally don't do that, but she reminded me of my grandmother," says Tougas, who also followed up with the woman multiple times to check in and help.
Mohan also continues to check in with the elderly German man. On the man's birthday, just days after his wife's death, Mohan visited him once again bringing cupcakes and a card.
I was taught to help others and that's why I'm in this job – to make sure that people are safe for the long haul and to look for solutions," says Mohan.