By J.W. Schnarr
Last week I went on a ride along with the Taber Police Service. I consider the opportunity a fringe benefit that comes with my job, as it’s an opportunity for me to experience something few people really get a chance to be involved with.
It was a weeknight, it was bitterly cold, and the roads were terrible from all the snow. I didn’t have any expectations. I expected it might be a slow night, but I figured I’d go anyway, and maybe grab a few usable shots. Talking things over with Greg Price, editor of The Times, we decided if I went out for a few hours and nothing happened, I could always do a story about how officers keep alert on nights when there isn’t much going on.
It’s important to realize that at any moment they can get a call which leads to potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations, and I imagine keeping on your toes for just such an event can be a difficult one when there’s been nothing happening for half your shift.
While I was waiting to go out, I sat and had a chat with the TPS dispatcher who was on call that night, and learned quite a lot about how the nerve centre of local emergency services operates. The one big thing I took away was that the dispatch needs to be monitored constantly; you can’t even leave the room to get a drink without someone there to spell you off. I noticed at some point that our conversation had been going on for quite some time, and it was discovered there was a mix-up with the officers on duty. They actually thought I was just there to hang out and visit, and didn’t realize I was waiting to go out on patrol.
Everything resolved itself eventually, and I signed my waiver acknowledging I wouldn’t give away any TPS trade secrets, and also that I wouldn’t get myself hurt while out with them. I was paired up with Cst. Matt Champagne, an officer I have met before on numerous occasions. An 11-year veteran of the TPS, I’m sure many of you have seen him around as well.
I was expecting a quiet night. What I got was a 9-1-1 call about 30 seconds after handing in my waiver.
The dispatcher relayed the information to Cst. Champagne, as we were still in the room when the call came through. Then we took off for the police truck.
So we go out on this call, and it’s a domestic dispute. Some people in a fight. I’m not going to tell you who or where, because this is a small town and your average Janes and Joes are entitled to a little privacy. Politicians, celebrities, and sports figures? Yah, I’ll run that stuff on the front page all day. But you live by sword, you die by it, in my books.
I actually sat in the truck the entire time the issue was being dealt with, mostly because there were some unknown factors involved and it would look bad if I came back from a ride-along with my head busted open. Not that I have a problem with it, mind you, but I represent an added variable in the situation that most officers would rather not have to worry about.
In this case, Champagne made an arrest and we hauled the person back to police HQ to get processed. I was able to sit in on that process, and consequently was sitting there when Champagne pulled a small baggie with some cocaine residue out of the person’s wallet.
I was told there wasn’t enough of the drug there to press charges, but I had a chance to see how evidence is collected when charges are laid, and I was also able to watch the process for confiscated items to be destroyed. I took photos of the process, one of which appears with the story I wrote involving the incident.
After all that excitement, everything slowed down as Champagne dealt with paperwork and the aftermath of the incident. There were phone calls to be made, and he called back the initial caller and had a very personable talk with them about what happened. They also discussed some of the issues which had precipitated the call. I wasn’t privy to the voice on the other end of the line, but Champagne did an excellent job of allaying their fears from what I could see.
Paperwork is a big part of law enforcement, and Cst. Tim Johnson and I talked about how long it can take to resolve even one case. He said a single impaired charge can take five or six hours to process, but all the paperwork has to be properly filed in order to ensure the system works properly.
On quiet nights, Johnson also told me those are the times he prefers to catch up on his paperwork for the week as he gears up for the weekend.
By midnight, we were still in the office, and I was beginning to think it was time to head out. I had a few photos, and some good stories, so I had what I needed. Besides, it was shaping out to be exactly what I was told it would be: a really quiet night with not much going on. And I still had to go to work the next morning.
Of course, I found out the next day that after I left, they went out and busted a guy who was attempting a bunch of break and enters around town.
It just goes to show, you really can’t tell what’s going to happen on any given night.