He should thank his roommate

Last night was a busy summer Saturday night – downtown was jammed, there was an event at Roger’s Arena, and backyards were host to a multitude of BBQ parties (including one apparently epic game of beer pong that included an entire street of neighbours – no complaints there, thank goodness, even though I do wonder how those pong players are feeling today).

Also typical for a summer night were the number of domestic dispute calls. Hot weather makes people lose their sense of reason, and patrol units were kept busy all shift.

At the end of the night, just as the sun was thinking about making her debut on the Eastern horizon, the call I was waiting for came in – a break and enter in progress. A neighbour called 911 to report a man had climbed up a ledge and was trying to access a second floor balcony in Vancouver’s West End.

(Don’t think for a second that you can leave your sliding door open if you live on an upper floor. Residents frequently report break and enters to apartment buildings where access was gained from the patio after the thief scaled a wall.)

PSD Hondo and I were the first at the scene, and we quietly moved into position to see what the potential break and enter suspect was doing.

There he was – balanced on a wall and trying to climb up to a second floor balcony with a partially open sliding glass door. He kept trying to pull himself up while grasping the railing, but he wasn’t quite strong enough.

Turns out he wasn’t sober enough, either.

This ‘break and enter suspect’ had it all wrong. Usually, when trying to break into someone’s residence or business, a suspect will use whatever he can to his advantage – the cover of darkness, an empty house while the owners are at work, or being shielded by vegeatation – but this guy was using NONE of it.

Instead, he hung from the bottom railing and swung his body in an attempt to gain momentum, but he only swung far enough to lose his footing on the ledge and he ended up having to scramble back up to safety. Then, in an animated stage whisper, he tried to get the attention of someone inside the apartment by calling out, “Hey! I’m sorry. Come on!”

At first, I thought the ‘suspect’ was making a last ditch attempt at a late night booty call, and figured the woman ignoring him was a smart lady. But then a young man flicked an interior light on and walked towards the patio, closely followed by his girlfriend.

Turns out the ‘suspect’ hanging from the railing in a poor rendition of Spider Man was his room mate.

The ‘suspect’ had come home in all his drunken bliss some time before, gone into the apartment and thrown his roommate’s fast food meal off the patio in what he thought was an act of hilarity. The roommate got the ‘suspect’ to exit the apartment to retrieve the food, but promptly locked him out and went to bed.


The roommate finally took pity on the ‘suspect’ didn’t want the ‘suspect’ to wake the neighbourhood up with his increasingly loud pleas to be let back in, so he came down to the door a few moments after the police arrived and was greeted not only by his drunk buddy, but by PSD Hondo and I, where I explained what can happen when someone is breaking into an apartment.

The roommate apologized for his drunk buddy’s behaviour, corralled him inside and piled him into the elevator.

As the other officers and I walked back to our cars, the ‘suspect’ popped out on the balcony to wish us a good night, and thanked us for not hauling him off to jail. I’m sure he would have continued his monologue had it not been for the roommate yanking him back inside and bolting the door shut.

And that’s what friends are for – they make you acknowledge your inappropriate actions, but come to your aid when those actions are close to getting you in trouble.



Guest Post – Surviving Your Relationships


Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith originally posted this article on PoliceOne.com. The topic of how law enforcement officers interact with their family and friends outside of work needs to be taken seriously by officers if they want to have a long and fulfilling career. This job is demanding and without a solid and supportive network of loved ones, this job can wreck havoc on even the most resilient officer.

Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith responded immediately with a resounding “Yes!” when I asked her permission to guest post this article. In case you have not heard of her, here is her bi-line from PoliceOne.com:

Sergeant Betsy Smith has nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience and recently retired as a patrol supervisor in a Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command, Betsy is a police trainer, author and instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. Visit Betsy’s website at www.femaleforces.com.


Surviving you relationships by Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith

Cops have a notoriously high divorce rate, but divorce statistics are only part of the story. Think about all the engagements, live-in boyfriend/girlfriend situations, or same-sex partnerships that don’t work out either.  Let’s face it, we tend to be lousy at intimate relationships.In the Street Survivalseminar, we talk about surviving this job not only physically and tactically, but emotionally, and a large part of our survival is dependant upon the success of our personal relationships. I can’t tell you how many officers have come up to me after a seminar and said “All this time, I thought it was all my wife’s fault that we don’t get along, but now I’m beginning to understand that it might just be me.”

The majority of the research and writings on this topic tend to focus on what our spouses can do to make our marriages better. If only our partners would change their attitudes, be more understanding, learn to communicate better, and deal more successfully with the day-to-day stressors that “we,” the cops, face we’d all be happier.

I’m suggesting that those of us with the badge look in the mirror, look into our hearts, and try to figure out what we can do to improve our relationships; here are a few suggestions:


  • Watch how you talk to and treat those you love. Do you give orders or make requests when you get home? Do you work your tail off to help out a citizen while you’re on duty but when you get home it’s just too much trouble to help fold the laundry or take out the garbage?  Sometimes we treat strangers, our co-workers, or the citizens better than we do our own families.  I had a revelation a few years ago during a heated argument with my husband, a former police lieutenant. He said to me “Don’t talk to me like one of your officers!” And I spontaneously shot back with “I would never talk to my officers the way I talk to you!”  Holy cow!  I really like the guys who work for me, but I adore my husband, and yet here I was, talking to him like some incompetent rookie that was about to get terminated. Take a good, hard look at how you communicate with your loved ones. Pay attention not only to your words, but your gestures, your tone of voice, your general demeanor.  Do you talk to them like the precious people they are, or do you need to do some work on your communication skills at home?


  • Have a “going home” ritual.  It can be hard to transition from crimefighter to spouse, partner, or parent. I used to come home immediately after a twelve hour shift to my family who was waiting to have dinner with me.  My husband would cook a great meal, hand me a glass of wine as I walked in the door, and ask me about my day. Sounds perfect, right?  In reality, it drove me nuts. I’d arrive home still in “cop mode,” either wired or exhausted, and more than a little surly. All I wanted was to go through the mail, wolf down something to eat, and enjoy my glass of wine in total silence and solitude…not exactly the happy homecoming that my family kept anticipating night after night. I had to develop a new “going home ritual” before I no longer was welcome in my own home!  Now, a couple of nights a week after work I go to the gym and on the other nights I at least take a shower at the police department and change into my favorite sweats before I drive home. I get a home a little later, but my family agrees that I’m a whole lot more pleasant to be around, and I’m much more engaged from the time I walk in the door.


  • Don’t get too caught up in your own self-importance.  On average, less than two out of every one hundred police applicants actually get hired, so by the time we get “on the job” we already feel like we’re pretty darn special. Add to that the public’s fascination with our profession, the danger factor, and the power and authority, and it’s easy for us to lose perspective. After all, how can anyone’s day compare to yours? So what if your spouse had to deal with 25 second graders on a field trip today, or your partner had an argument with her boss, or your teenage son got turned down for the freshman dance by his not-so-secret crush? That stuff is petty compared to the traffic crashes, the suicides, the child molesters, and domestic violence calls you went to today! Obviously, the family needs to get a little perspective! Or maybe you do?  It’s easy for your family members’ trials and triumphs to get overshadowed by the serious nature of your profession. In fact, they may begin to trivialize their own issues because they don’t want to “bother”  you with them.  Take the time to find out about their day, truly listen to what they have to say, ask questions, show empathy, make them feel valued. They’ll be much more ready to listen when you’re ready to talk about your day, which brings me to my next point.


  • Bring your family in to “your” world. Very often cops hide what we really do from our families. We don’twant to worry them or frighten them or make them cynical or paranoid, plus sometimes we just don’t feel like talking. But it’s a mistake to keep your family at arm’s length. Tell your spouse about your frustration with that battered wife who just won’t let her husband be arrested; bend your partner’s ear about why your sergeant was such a jerk today, but try to find something positive to talk about too. Tell them how great it felt to find that lost little girl or finally solve those string of residential burglaries. And don’t forget your kids. Sharing your day with them in an age-appropriate manner can result in some great parent/child bonding. I use my work “stories” as teachable moments for my kids. In fact, my youngest daughter and I have developed a routine as we’re getting ready for bed when I tell her “Tales of Stupid Decisions by Teenage Girls.” I get to vent, she learns how to stay out of trouble, and we both understand each other’s world a little better.


  • When you make a commitment to spend time with your family, honor it. Treat it like a court subpoena, a call-in for overtime, in-service training; or whatever mental game you have to play with yourself to make family time “mandatory.” Yeah, you might be tired; sure, you’ve got a lot going on; but if it was the department telling you that you have to come in and do something, you’d do it. Consistently make your family a priority. Cops tend to put off family time until “tomorrow” or “my days off” or “when I’m on vacation” or even “when I retire,” and sometimes by then, it’s too late. Given the precarious nature of our job,  time with your loved ones should rarely be put off until some other time!


  • Keep in touch. A “thanks for packing me a lunch” note left on the kitchen table, a brief text message to say “I miss you” or a quick phone call to say “We’re really busy out here tonight but I can’t wait to see you and the kids in the morning” are short, simple ways to stay in touch with your family even while you’re out fighting crime. Our families worry about us and miss us when we’re on duty, and it only takes a few seconds to let them know that you’re okay and that you miss them, appreciate them, love them, and can’t wait to get back home to see them!


  • Don’t be afraid to get help. Years of poor communication, job stress, resentment toward the agency or maybe even each other can leave a relationship badly damaged. The writings and teachings of both Dr. Ellen Kirschman and Dr. Kevin Gillmartin are excellent resources for police officers and their families looking to improve their relationships. And before you join the ranks of the 75% of us who gave up on a marriage, give counseling a try. You spend your time at work helping others, so let a professional therapist or your minister or your department’s employee assistance personnel give you a hand.


Just like officer survival training has been instrumental in reducing police officer injuries and deaths, relationship survival can help our profession reduce that high divorce rate.  Train for your relationships like you train for your survival, because both are worth fighting for!

Posted in A Day in the Life by Sandra. 5 Comments

On the Eve

It’s been 100 years since the Vancouver Police Department hired the first police woman.

The Vancouver Police Museum will be releasing their interactive exhibit on June 30, 2012.

100 years of women in policing.

1912 to 2012 – how cool is that?

There are a couple of big events planned for the coming months, including the exhibit at the museum, and yes, I’ll be talking (and Tweeting) about them more as they come closer.

Until then, here is a post from May 2010, titled Women in Policing, where a prospective police applicant asked about the obstacles faced by women trying to get in to law enforcement.

My response was par for course, so what I’d like to draw your attention to are the comments left by several readers, many of whom are current serving officers with agencies from across North America.

What would you add?




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?”


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.”



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!)