Ride-Along

Last Saturday’s ride along was a hoot.

The young woman (I know her well, so let’s call her ‘Jane’) was a bit nervous beforehand, and when she arrived at the kennels for the start of the shift, she admitted she felt as if she had been getting ready for a date.

“What do I wear? Is this too bright? Should I wear all black? Can I run in this? What do I do with my hair?”

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Fifteen minutes later, after a tour of the Dog Squad facility and a run down on patrol operations, we were in my Tahoe and driving to our first call of the night.

Jane was relaxed and taking in all the information I had thrown at her. Coming from a non-police background and with no experience on the law enforcement side of life, Jane was a 100% newbie.

Then again, attitude is everything.

Jane was leaned back in her seat while she looked out at the passing masses. There were regular people and those who automatically draw police attention with their illegal activities, and Jane’s voice was coated in the comedic drawl I have come to love:

“You know what, Sandra? I”m feeling pretty bad-ass right about now.”

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Drug presentation & DTES walk-about

Two Friday’s ago, the Odd Squad gave their drug presentation to my daughter’s sports team to provide the girls a basic understanding about the hazards of drug use. The presentation was the same provided to high schools but was tailored to the small group, which was ideal as the girls were in their peer environment.

In addition to the officers giving the talk, hubby and I were also there – me in uniform, and hubby as a chaperone – but we left the room when it came time for Q&A so the girls would feel comfortable asking whatever questions they needed to ask.

 

 

Apparently, they asked some excellent questions.

The officers giving the talk weren’t sworn to secrecy; they were respecting the girls and allowing them the freedom of unfettered curiosity so I’m not sure of the exact questions, but what was clear was this – even though they have heard about cocaine and heroin, the girls showed their naivety and innocence by not knowing what the drugs actually were, and their questions focused more around drinking and cigarettes.

In the end, we, as parents and educators, cannot make decisions for our children, but we can provide assistance and guidance by arming them with knowledge.

Knowledge = power = the confidence and strength to make right decisions.

And with that, the group hit the streets of the Downtown Eastside for a short walk-about.

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The purpose of the walk-about was twofold.

1) Walking into the drug trade and seeing it firsthand leaves an impression.

2) What’s important is the girls not see the Downtown Eastside as a wasteland of ruined lives and forgotten souls. Walking into the Downtown Eastside and experiencing it firsthand also shows that underneath the shadow of the drug trade there exists a tight and positive community.

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We came across a woman standing beside a dumpster at the mouth of the south lane of Hastings St.

 

south lane of E. Hastings St, looking east from Carrall St

 

So focused was she on her crack pipe, that she didn’t see the group  of us standing on the street watching her.

The girls were horrified and curious, their eyes drawn to the petite blond woman with her dirty hands wrapped around that hot, glass tube.  The woman saw us and paused, quickly dropping her hands to try and conceal the crack pipe and lighter. Her face was heavily lined, her lips were blistered and bleeding, and she appeared decades older than her 35 years. She handed over the pipe to one of the officers, then spoke briefly to the girls.

“Shit starts the first time you use drugs. Don’t do it,” she said.

Then she walked away.

I’m not sure what impression the woman made, as her impromptu speech was only a few seconds long. The girls looked after her, and the collective confusion over that they witnessed was obvious.

The girls were clearly out of their comfort zone, and I was fine with that. They had watched the video and seen the drug presentation, but now they were seeing it first hand.

Excellent.

The officer with the crack pipe held it out and asked the girls to gather around. He explained how the glass pipes typically start out quite long, with a rubber tube around one end to protect the smoker’s lips from the hot fumes.  He pointed to the bit of steel wool crammed in the end, and at the bits of cocaine residue. He showed how this tube was shorter, with no rubber coating, and how the hot glass had likely blistered and burned the woman’s lips. He explained that when the proper ‘safety equipment’ (like rubber tubing) isn’t available, some people will forgo any precautions just for the drug-high.

 

crack pipe with rubber tubing to protect smoker's lips

 

Normally, walking in the DTES as an officer, the criminals and drug dealers move away before you like a human tide, while the regular residents and citizens stay doing whatever it was they were doing before you came on the scene.

It was a different experience walking in the DTES with a group of young, teenaged girls. The human tide was still in effect, but the area residents and citizens went out of their way to say hello and to congratulate the girls on taking the time to come down to their area.

The girls were still out of their comfort zone, but they were aware of what was going on around them. They looked, they were curious, they asked questions. They wrinkled their noses and a couple of them gagged at the stench of urine in one particularly nasty spot, but they never complained.

They also met a long time area resident, who took the time to stop and talk to them.

This woman explained she was a recovered addict who chose to remain living in the DTES so she could help other addicts by volunteering her time with various outreach groups. She was positive, friendly and outgoing, even if her physical self had not completely healed from the ravages of long time addiction.

It was a good thing for the girls to have met her.

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We wrapped up the evening by walking back to the Odd Squad office along Abbott St. We were almost at our destination and our police escort was walking ahead while hubby and I lagged behind and chatted with the girls about what they had seen. The officers up ahead rounded the corner to the office and went out of sight, and my ears perked up as our group neared the same corner.

One of the other officers was yelling, “Stop! Police!”

There was more yelling and shouting – a theft suspect was fighting with store security out on the sidewalk. The street was crowded and the suspect used this to his advantage – he made a break for it.

He sprinted towards Abbott St and turned south, with the officers chasing after him. I cut around hubby and my group of girls, gave my parked police SUV a longing glance (PSD Hondo was inside, but the truck was too far away to go retrieve him) and joined in the foot pursuit.

Our route took us south down the centre of Abbott St (I cursed that I was not supposed to be in foot chases – that’s what the police dog is for) and east onto Expo Blvd. The suspect was really boogying, but I suspected he would tire quickly. One of the officers was radioing in the chase and I could hear the sirens of police cars coming to assist.

Movement caught the corner of my eye, and I looked over to see a police recruit flanking us in a full-out sprint.

Here’s the thing about police recruits – they tend to be young and very fast, and this recruit blew past us like we were running in molasses – I didn’t have a police dog to deploy, so why not deploy the recruit?

He caught the suspect a few moments later, with us right on his heels to assist with the arrest. Arriving police cars screeched to a halt out on the road, one of the officers let dispatch know the suspect was in custody and I walked back to where the girls were waiting once the scene was all sorted out.

They had witnessed the the foot pursuit and the responding police cars speeding in with lights and sirens – “Just like in the movies!” one of them said.

They cheered when I said we had caught him, and they were chatty and laughing as they repeatedly said, “That was so cool!”

It was an excellent way for the girls to end the night.

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In a perfect world, the night would have the following results:

  • the drug presentation would provide the girls knowledge and understanding about the dangers of drug use, enabling them to make good choices as they grow up
  • the walk-about would leave an impression of how bad the living conditions are for hard core addicts
  • the walk-about would also leave an impression that the regular residents and citizens of the DTES are good people, not to be judged by the area’s rampant drug trade
  • the ending spectacle of the foot chase would spark interest in a career in law enforcement (that was an added bonus!)
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Do you ever feel like this?

“I try to take it one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.”

                                                                                                – Ashleigh Brilliant

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Posted in A Day in the Life Quotes by Sandra. 1 Comment

Blood Lines & the Family Tree

Do ancestry and family ties have any bearing on career selection and personal interests?

I grew up in a loving family with a stay-at-home mother and a self-employed father. My father’s family lived in Northern Ireland and my mother’s side lived in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As such, we rarely saw my dad’s side and we visited my mom’s side once or twice a year. Childhood snapshots include memories of driving across Canada to spend summer months in Saskatchewan. The prairie wheat silos, the small green ranch house in Nipawin and the single lane bridge across the Saskatchewan River all come into play.

What I distinctly recall is the lack of exposure to law enforcement. With the exception of my dad playing rugby with a bunch of cops and firemen, and the one time the Vancouver Police Department used my parent’s house as a sniper post for a barricaded suspect (that’s a story for another post as it may have sparked my interest in becoming a police dog handler), there were no interactions or mentions of law enforcement or other public service jobs in our daily lives.

Now, though, my family tree is sprinkled with blue uniforms.

My grandfather (who died long before I was born) was Quarter Master and then Commandant for the British Red Cross (Belfast) during World War 2. I only found this out in 2010.

My husband is fire department Lieutenant, and his cousin is a fire fighter with the same agency.

My cousin is a detective with a police agency in Eastern Canada, and my brother-in-law is another fire fighter.

To top it off, my son has made noises about wanting to be a police officer when he grows up.  My daughter? Not so much – she’s still undecided.

My children’s thoughts do not come as a surprise, as they are surrounded by police officers and fire fighters on a regular basis. They hear the stories (even when we try to shield them) and experience what it is to be the child of a parent who serves the public good. That they would consider law enforcement or fire fighting as a career is expected, given they are raised in a certain environment.

That said, I’ve often wondered if the drive to serve the public, to work in law enforcement, and to run towards danger when others are running away from it are inherited or learned character traits. After reading up on and studying various theories on inheritance and genetics (Charles Darwin, mendelian inheritance, Lamarckism to name a few), I’m no closer to figuring it out.

Perhaps we are not meant to fully understand.

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No hot dogs!

Saturday, May 26th, 2012 was City of Vancouver‘s Family Day. Various departments were there, including police, fire, and parks & recreation. The entire event was geared towards children and families: bouncy castles galore, popcorn, face painting, balloons, a mini-bike course, races, stickers and temporary tattoos.

The Vancouver Police Department was represented by a large contingent. The Mounted Squad brought Police Horses Duke and Ben, the Forensic Identification Unit  took ‘mug shots’, the Emergency Response Team displayed their ARV (Armed Response Vehicle – yes, it’s as impressive as it looks), and the Traffic Section rode in on the sweet rumble of Harley engines.

 

Duke and Ben

 

ARV (photo Rebecca Blissett, Vancouver Courier)

 

PSD Hondo and I spent time meeting and greeting dozens of people. Hondo really liked the kids as he has learned they often have forgotten food bits and/or treats in their pockets. The only down side was the kids often had helium balloons attached to them, which piqued Hondo’s interest (I’m sure he was thinking, “Cool! A floating ball! You brought that over here just for me?!?!”), so I had to make sure the balloons stayed far enough away.

Hondo was a good sport, and even posed for photos.

 

PD Hondo and our police SUV

 

Santurday was one of the warmest day we’ve had so far this year, and with very little breeze and no shade where we were stationed, Hondo’s black coat proved to be a detriment. I gave him lots of water breaks, but the only thing to keep him really happy was to lounge in the air conditioned environment of our police SUV. He’d stay out for a while, meet some people, start to get too hot, and then he’d go back in the truck to cool off.

The adults asked about Hondo being in a closed vehicle in the heat. We spoke of the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car, and how quickly the temperature can rise to lethal levels, even on temperate days.

This is where our K9 vehicles are specialized – they have a modified interior, and the back seats are replaced with a large stainless steel kennel for the dogs to ride in. The side windows can be rolled down for airflow and to show the emergency lights mounted on the side (look at the photo above, and you will see the grate/mesh in the window of the open door).

The vehicle’s air conditioning system is piped into the kennel area and the SUV is equipped with a heat alarm. This specialized system monitors the temperature inside both the passenger and the K9 compartment. If the temperature gets too high, an extremely loud alarm is activated to notify the handler, and the windows on the SUV drop down to increase air flow.

 

K9 Heat Alarm - to keep our dogs safe

 

(I found out this past winter that the alarm also monitors when the interior gets too cold. I happened to be standing in front of the truck when the alarm went off, and I just about had to change my shorts. That sucker is really loud.)

Heat exhaustion (not just attributed to being left in a hot car) is a significant cause of death amongst working dogs. High temperatures combined with rigorous conditions can overheat a working dog in a very short time, and can be fatal.

The Connecticut Police Work Dog Association maintains a list of worldwide working dogs that are killed/die while in active service. Take a look through the list, and you will find a number of dogs have succumbed to heat exhaustion. The list may be distressing for some to read, as the average number of working dogs dying while in service averages 150 dogs a year (worldwide).

It is this reason the Vancouver Police Department outfits it’s K9 vehicles with heat alarms and goes to great lengths to ensure the safety and wellbeing our four-legged partners.