All officers in Ontario must attend the police college located deep in Amish county for four months, before going to their respective posts throughout the Province. The instructors come from all the different services too, with varied experiences and policing styles. I had one female Sergeant from OPP who I really connected with while there. She was only 5’2” and she had worked most of her 25 year career way up deep in the north. She talked about needing to be flown in and there she would stay for six solid weeks, and then would be flown out to go home for four weeks rest.
While there, it was just her. She said no one else was there and her back-up was three days away. You learn to police in a whole new manner. In Toronto, if you are attacked and you have to fight, they teach you six minutes. You just have to stay alive for six minutes and your back-up will be there. But those six minutes are crucial. We train for these, conditioning ourselves to struggle, wrestle and box, if needed. Now I say just, like when I used to say “It’s just a half marathon” after completing a few full marathons. It was still 21km! And one year, when I arrogantly thought that way, it’s just a half, the damn race nearly killed me. I learned to respect the distance of the half marathon! But I digress. Just six minutes is much the same. I worked one-on-one with a Thai Boxing coach for a couple of years. A boxing match is just three minutes long. You ever try to complete one? It takes stamina, strength, speed and more endurance. Have you noticed when the boxers break for the minute, they are winded, sweating profusely and making it look anything other than easy? That’s because it IS hard and that’s just three minutes. Now try six minutes while someone is intent on harming you and your intent on trying not to harm them. It would not be a good day for me, I’ll tell you that!
So, this Sergeant, who worked for years without any real type of backup, had to work differently. She talked about being a part of the community, knowing who the town folks were and using Robert Peel’s theory of policing, where in order to police, you must have the approval and co-operation of the public. She told stories about the far north, how everyone there has long guns, many usually, for hunting. Guns, combined with liquor the second past time of the far north, she said were never a good combination. And as she would go alone to a shots fired radio call, she new it was over at the Smiths home by the address. And as Mr.Smith leaned out the second floor window shooting off rounds everywhere, trying to hit the ghosts he was seeing in his alcoholic delirium, she would stay a safe distance back, talking to him. She used her relationship and her personal knowledge of him, reminded him of the things that were important to him, and waited for him to agree to put down the rifle and come out. A very different approach in Toronto. One bullet off a balcony can hit many people we are so close. Different areas, different populations and different circumstances to navigate and deal with, so different resolutions. In any event, she had faced it all, done it all, and done it alone with no back-up. She was one of those tough-as-nails police officers. I highly respected her.
When I graduated, she gave me an angel. You know, one of those angel pins you can buy at any card store, like Hallmark. It wasn’t anyone in specific, just a pin. I didn’t understand the significance of it until she told me to put it inside my safety vest and the angel would protect me. It was then that I learned, this is a long tradition of police since they started to wear safety vests, to include something small inside the vest for protection. This along with a token from Sue, ‘Toujours avec vous,’ also from Hallmark, these two items have lived in my vest since I started the job.
Sharon and I were assigned to the bottom end of the division on this day. My vest cover was becoming very ratty, old and worn looking. I told her I wanted to go to ‘stores’ which is where all the pieces of the uniform are kept, attached to the garage for servicing the scouts. So, I put the scout in drive and off we went. Stores has just a small reception area in the front with a seamstress off the front hall and a small change room in the next. This building, I believe, had been used since the beginning of the police service, or at least it looked as such. A cross between an industrial and institutional feel, the place has never been cleaned and has a well established amount of grime all around the baseboards. I stood there at the counter, taking my vest off to remove the cover, as the Manager went to retrieve my new shell. Just as he came back, I heard an audible ‘clink, clink’ as something hit the floor and went rolling. “Shit” I said as I quickly scaned the floor of the reception area without seeing where it had gone. I knew exactly what it was. I had my angel in my hand, but my token was missing. I looked this way and that and got down a bit closer to the floor. I particularly was interested in the counter, where I thought it had possibly rolled under. I looked at the dirt, grit and grease, about half an inch deep, and made the decision right there. “Nope, I guess it’s gone,” I said, standing up straight. Sharon asked what it was and I told both she and the Manager. They both looked at me with a look of horror. “We must find it,” Sharon insisted as both she and the Manager dived to the floor, scrambling around to look for this lost token. Apparently, I didn’t understand the importance in retrieving it. They tried a long ruler, they tried shoving and pushing the counter to the side, they flashed a light underneath the counter, all to no avail. They couldn’t find it, nor could they have retrieved it if they had, I guessed. Glued to the floor underneath I was sure.
As we turned to leave, Sharon says, “Give me the car key.” “Why?” I ask. “ We are out-of-commission. We have to tell the Sergeant we can’t go out on the road until we replace this token. Where do we get one?” I actually had thought she’d lost her marbles at that point and was over reacting. However, she looked seriously at me and then said “If something happens to you today, it’ll always be because you lost that token and it will always be on me. No way. Where do we get a new one?” I was to find out, it was not only she that felt that way, but the Sergeant did too, giving us his blessing to attend Yorkdale to go find a Hallmark or other book store and get a new token. Then all the world would be aligned properly again and I could do my job. “But why can’t I drive?” I ask. “No chances,” she responds.
So, off we went to Yorkdale, but we were to find out there is no Hallmark there and Carlton Cards do not sell these. After looking them up, we had to go to the north end of the division to find the only Hallmark nearby. Inside we went, right up to the front cash to the holder of these tokens. I rummaged through them, only finding those written in English, none in French. “What’s the problem? Grab one and lets go,” Sharon says. “But they are in English. Mine was in French.” “You’ve got to be kidding!” she exclaimed. She called the Sergeant and chatted and they made arrangements for us to go and relieve a unit sitting in a hallway in an apartment building, guarding the scene of an apartment. Something supposedly less dangerous than attending to 911 calls. But it was not over, as I still did not have that token and we had to work together again tomorrow. “You better call around to Hallmark and find that token,” Sharon warned. But I did something better. I had a friend who works at Hallmark, who lives just around the corner from me. A quick call and I found out she had two there. She agreed to buy one and bring it home for me so I could pick it up before shift tomorrow. I could see the relief on Sharon’s face. But unbeknownst to me, my friend at Hallmark, realizing these tokens are now out of circulation for the most part, put an order in for a dozen of them, to ensure I would never be without it again. And the next day during parade, Sharon had to share her experience of the day before with the platoon, who all nodded in agreement with her that it was best to have taken me out of commission that day. “Not on my watch,” was the resounding mantra. And I had to show the group that I actually had the token before putting it in my vest to ease all those superstitious minds. I would be safe another day.