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A typical night shift at 14 Division

May 6th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Gleaner correspondent gets a different view joining a nighttime patrol of the downtown core. A fender-bender, a distressed teenager causing a disturbance at home, and a search for a an elderly man suffering from dementia represent a typical shift. Photo: Brian Burchell, Gleaner News

Gleaner correspondent gets a different view joining a nighttime patrol of the downtown core. A fender-bender, a distressed teenager causing a disturbance at home, and a search for a an elderly man suffering from dementia represent a typical shift. Photo: Brian Burchell, Gleaner News

Ride-along reveals unique perspective on policing in Toronto

By Cole Burchell

At the start of every shift, each member of the Toronto Police Service straps on a bulletproof vest before hitting the streets for a night that could bring anything. It isn’t often that the ranks of the service approve a member of the public to ride along in one of their squad cars, which they call scouts. But, one evening last month, I was lucky enough to get such an opportunity.

I rode with Sergeant Erik Epperson in a scout through the area covered by 14 Division, which includes a wide swath of downtown between Spadina Avenue and Dufferin Street, and from the lake to the Canadian Pacific rail line at Dupont Street. In addition, the division splits Parkdale with 11 Division and patrols the south side of Queen West to the lake.

It was a slow night at 14, as Sgt. Epperson gave me a guided tour of the new station on Dovercourt Road, now only two years old. I saw cell-blocks, interrogation rooms, two floors of underground garage, a parking lot equipped with its own gas pump, and a central headquarters. The state of the art building features geothermal heating and cooling, has a living green rooftop, and can generate its own electricity for weeks if necessary. Not a suspect, complainant, detainee, or police officer, I had a vantage point not often seen by the public eye.

Subsequent to the tour, the sergeant and I proceeded to the scout. The front seat, a very comfy one at that, gave a great view of the computer system placed within every car. The computer is the brain of the car, complete with a messaging service and GPS and hundreds of other features, all for the purpose of law enforcement.

After a quick explanation of the vehicle’s technology, we pulled out of the station and were on our way. Immediately, we received a call about a collision on Lakeshore Boulevard. We arrived on the scene and checked it out; it was a classic rear-ended fender bender. After everything was settled and the cars were being hooked up to tow, we took a drive over to the garage where all restorations of police vehicles in Toronto occur. The vast space housed everything from boats to mobile command units to horse-trailers.

After we got back into the cruiser a new call appeared on the car’s computer network. It was concerning a missing person, whose age was above 60, who had wandered from her seniors’ residence and hadn’t been seen since 10 a.m. that morning.

The sergeant described to me experiences on similar calls and said that sometimes those who suffer from dementia walk in a straight line, not necessarily going anywhere. On occasion, the service receives calls for seniors who have wandered right into the lake. The computer beeped, signalling that another cruiser was taking the call after being notified by dispatch.

That night we also received notice that a mentally ill man had supposedly destroyed the contents of a home; earlier that day I had seen his parents in the station asking for assistance. We arrived at the scene and Sgt. Epperson instructed me to stay in the car while he and two other officers entered the residence. After a few suspenseful moments in the car I heard a knock on the back door and was motioned inside by another officer. I was expecting to see substantial damage to the property, but when I entered everything was in near perfect order. Sgt. Epperson motioned me around the corner, and there was a large houseplant that had been uprooted from its planter. The distressed man was put safely in the back of a scout and taken to hospital for an evaluation, and the sergeant and I continued on our shift.

In between calls, Sgt. Epperson and I engaged in a lengthy conversation regarding law enforcement, its involvement with post-secondary education, and the recent stigma surrounding police forces in North America. He told me that a vast majority of recruited officers have post-secondary education, and that there is a common misbelief that most officers join the force immediately out of high school or with only a secondary diploma. It’s usually only after pursuing other opportunities that professionals change their focus to policing.

We also talked about C-51, the Conservative government’s new anti-terror legislation.

He said that in his view, which he believes is shared by most of the police service, the bill is nothing to be afraid of if you have nothing to hide. He also explained that issues of incompetence are revealed and dealt with at the recruiting level, and aspiring officers will not be inducted if the screening manager observes immaturity and incompetence. Sgt. Epperson added that the police service reflects the city’s diversity, and has officers from hundreds of different ethnic backgrounds.

After my long night in the squad car, it became clear to me that policing is a job like any other. It’s obviously more diverse and challenging, but a job nonetheless. A common misconception is that police enjoy “busting” the public. Rather, the truth lies in that police are just doing their jobs, the same as anyone else. There is still a pile of paperwork lying on their desks at the end of the day, which in many cases is the most boring part. Riding in a scout gave me a unique perspective on policing both in Toronto and in southern Ontario, one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Tags: Annex · Liberty · News

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Elizabeth Lomax // May 7, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    A very well written article,both interesting and informative. The Gleaner is such an asset to the Annex and Liberty Village. Both residents and businesses benefit from the straight-forward reports of The Gleaner.