In the earlier post, I wrote about some of my first memories and some ideas about memory. I pointed out that memories can be a peculiar thing. I’ll take that a bit further while discussing some of the most haunting memories I have. I have tried to put them behind me, have seldom talked about them to anyone (although probably I should have to a professional, but we just didn’t do that back then), and that are often “triggered” regularly.
In being “triggered,” I don’t demand that others stop talking or reporting on things that have affected me over the years; instead I realize I have to deal with the triggers (and now, I probably need some help with them). This whole idea that we should respect other peoples’ triggers is so insane to me. We dealt with them as best we could, and would never dream of demanding “safe spaces” or speech that would not trigger us.
I actually have many memories that when I think about them, the fear at the time comes bubbling up. Mostly, I can deal with that – the difficulty comes in when I then start to hear other things about demanding “empathy,” “respect,” etc. It was my job, and it was a deeply held principle of mine, to show and feel empathy, and respect, and to try to find a solution for all concerned.
I know that my own personal experiences are not the most extreme; others have seen much much more than me. And in many ways, compared to the lives of others, we all should be very thankful. I worked in an occupation that asked us to do what today, would be considered quite insane things; some of my peers went through much more than I ever did, and I recognize that. Their stories should be told. Perhaps some day, they will be. Having said that, perhaps I can tell you a couple (oh, there were far far more than a “couple” of incidents though; I could go on for hours about some of the crazy things we did, or were asked to do. Of course, our management would always say that we were not really expected to do it – but no matter, any expectation would have meant facing some fears, taking control of the fears, and doing what you could.
There are actually quite a number of incidents that often “haunt” me – and we usually worked at this big disadvantage to other “first responders” in that we worked alone, most of the time. When we finished our shift, there was no one to really talk to and vent. You just went home. Then came back to work. And I don’t know how others did it, but for me, I did not want to “take the job home” with me.
What Was This Occupation In The First Place?
Good question. Not many people even are aware of it or knew it existed. Those with more detailed history can correct me, but I think I have the “generalities” pretty much accurate. BAck in the late 1960’s, there was an awareness of the management of the Ontario Housing Corporation that it might be beneficial to have their own “police force” for housing projects in Toronto – think Regent Park, Moss Park, Jane/Finch area, Kingston and Lawrence Road areas – that would be a “buffer” between the residents and the Toronto Police Force (then called Metropolitan Toronto Police Department or MTPD) as well as a “buffer” between the residents and property management. There were a lot of questions about whether this “force” or “service” should be armed, have full police powers, or something else.
Eventually, a former Deputy Chief of MTPD, Joe Thurston, was asked to create an organization of some type, that would provide a “community policing” service to OHC housing projects. In the end, a private corporation called “Community Guardian Co. Ltd.” was formed, that would initially hire only ex-police officers who showed a commitment to a “community (or social) policing” style of methodology in providing security, investigations and enforcement when needed, on OHC projects.
The original motto was “A Helpful Man In Your Community” which was later changed to “A Helpful Person In Your Community” and that had the commitment of “Arrest As A Last Resort.”
Surprisingly to some, but not surprising to others, this generally worked. Residents of OHC (and later to become the Metropolitan Toronto Housing Authority or MTHA) were encouraged to call the Community Guardian Co. (or CG for short) dispatch to call in anything they wanted to report. The dispatchers were probably better or as well trained as police dispatchers, with the ability to ascertain the seriousness of calls; whether backup would be required or perhaps on some occasions, the assistance of the MTPD. But mostly, they handled the vast majority of calls in a way that meant that the police were never required and helped the police as many calls were diverted.
The Community Guardians were trained well enough to respond to everything from things like:
- Drug Dealing
- Domestic Conflicts
- Neighbor Disputes
- Mental Illness
- And Anything Else Criminal or Otherwise
My father was actually one of the “original” Community Guardians, with his experience on the RUC in Northern Ireland, and then Vaughan Township Police north of Toronto, after emigrating to Canada. My father was not one to mess around with if you backed him into a corner, but he’d spend a lot of time (most of the time), using his Irish charm and talk, and his own great sense of empathy, to work problems out rather than escalate them, and to keep from being put in that corner. Indeed, that was a cornerstone of the philosophy of Community Guardian – to find ways to de-escalate situations. It would later be something that I personally took personal pride in – and why I today have so much criticism of policing, where that is not ingrained into the mindset. Because I’ve been there, and my first response upon hearing the examination of Constable James Forcillo in his trial for shooting Sammy Yatin, and Forcillo’s response to a question, “You think I should have offered him a drink of water?” (or something that effect), was, “Yes! Damn right you should have! That’s what we would have done, and it worked! Most of the time. Why not try? Get a conversation going!”
Of course, getting a conversation going, with some empathy, does not always work, but it’s worth a try. More often than not, in my own experience, it did work – but not always. But as one of Peel’s Principles says,
“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
So with that in mind, I later joined the Community Guardian Co. myself, which would eventually become in-house under MTHA directly. And while I know others dealt with more significant things at times, or even more frequent or risky situations, I certainly had my fair-share as well. Two situations always come to mind, almost on a daily basis, while other scary, situations come up often. Let’s focus on the first two. I wonder if my sons will ever read this, and understand…
The Two Things That Come Up The Most Often
I’m not “bragging” or exaggerating, that there were times when I likely HAD to arrest people; probably in a period of time when members of most small police forces wouldn’t even have to arrest or deal with the same situations in half the time period. It’s just a fact. And we often did it, without backup, without arms, and after a great deal of energy in diffusing situations that many police officers today, would never spend. Guys with knives, guys with guns, or guys with big bravado, drug dealers, or drug users that were so freaked out, you did not know what to expect. We found a way to survive. And we had little social or mental support. We just did it, wrote our reports, and then went on to the next call, or went home, and came back to work the next day.
As an aside, just so anyone wonders what our training was (and how serious this job was), it was actually pretty extensive. I’ve personally (along with others) been on training courses with MTPD at C.0. Bick College on a variety of courses; I’ve had training in fire fighting with the North York Fire Department at their training centre, and more. And I was expected for the most part, to respond to just about any kind of call a resident of OHC/MTHA would call in. And our “closeness” to our areas meant that my peers and I were truly first responders; before even the police arrived; before the fire department; before the ambulance.
Ironic that this is May 1st, First Responders Day, and I did not even realize that until now, as I write this.
Seeing The Grey Matter Leaking Out
If you are triggered by gross things, don’t read further. And if you are reading this, and you have experienced it as well yourself, please know I’m not bragging: My deepest respect to those, especially ambulance and paramedics. I don’t know how you do these things so often, possibly every day. For me though, my experience was one of a deep sense of helplessness. And I know there’s this people of an employment that never get heard or believed. We are pretty sure that few would even believe us.
I don’t even remember the exact year. I don’t even remember the exact place. I tried to just put it out of my mind. For awhile, I succeeded. I think it was around 1997. It might have been 1998. It might have been Warden Woods. It might have been Parma Court. But I’m pretty sure it was Parma Court.
I was one of the last, if not the last, to “evolve” to the new “enforcement style uniform” because I hated it, and was one of the last to get suited up for a bullet proof vest. I detested the new philosophy that was going in a direction I did not like, and so I am confused about the timing; I just know when it happened, I was still wearing and insisting on the old “Helpful person in your community” look.
I was also assigned to some special details, and was often called upon to work what was called a “support” role, in which I could be sent anywhere there was a need, or given the keys to a car to provide backup to anyone in a large area, but not assigned specifically.
One pleasant but cool evening, there was a call…. “Report of gunshots at …. (I don’t recall the address, it was either Warden Woods or Parma Court as mentioned) and I was just moments away. So I took the call.
When I arrived on scene, sure enough, there had been at least one gunshot; a male appearing to be a youth was laying on the side walk on the ground. I got out of the car and approached and could see him in difficulty…. “difficulty” is not the word. His grey matter from his brain along with blood was leaking out onto the sidewalk, where he lay.
It is one thing to say you’ve seen these things…. but it is quite another to see it AND feel helpless. All my first aid training could not have prepared me for this… a youth, laying there, gasping for air, gurgling sounds coming out of his mouth, while grey matter leaked out of his head.
I ran over to him. He was making sounds, but it was gurgles; was he trying to talk? But then, I think, “okay, where’s the shooter?” as I look around and see a parking lot, and some bushes beyond the sidewalk. “Is the shooter still around? Should I be protecting myself as well as this victim who is obviously hanging on to life, in case the shooter wants to ‘make sure’?” The thoughts that go through the head, while also knowing you need to radio in to your dispatch, as calmly as possible, so they know the situation and can ensure an ambulance is on the way.”
I glanced around to see if I needed to take further protection, but the victim, while gurgling and there’s his grey matter leaking out, seems to be shivering. I take off my jacket to give him some comfort – to keep him warm, or perhaps a feeling of warmth, while I am trying to talk to him, to see if he can recognize what I am saying. “Hey Man! Hang in there! Help is coming! Help is coming!”
Meanwhile I’m feeling like shit that I can’t do anything to help, except try to make sure he’s feeling warm, let him know I’ve got his back and watching out for the shooter(s) to come back, and when the heck is that ambulance going to arrive?
After what seems like an eternity, the ambulance finally appears down the street, and its about waving them down so they know exactly where to come to. The victim is put on a stretcher, there are brief words with the ambulance attendant, “We’ll get him to Sunnybrook,” and then you’re left alone. The police come, but you are trying to process everything, be the professional, explain what happened… and then that’s it.
You write out your notes, start your occurrence report, and with some weird ideas of disbelief that you’ve just experienced this, you clear the call.
Then, you take the next call. Some minor silly thing. You go do it. The investigation which will be a supplementary report, will be taken over by the onsite “project officer” whenever the come on duty. You just go and get on with the next things, you finish up your hours for the day, and go home.
Then you come back to work the next day, as if it’s all normal. No one asks how you are. Even if they did ask, you don’t want to admit to feeling anything weird. You might be weak, if you do that. In the back of your head, you wonder, “Did he make it?” But you don’t want to ask. You think about your own kids, and how it will be sooner rather than later, they’ll be the same age.
But if you say anything, or try to talk about it, you might be seen as “weak.” And you’re not weak, and yeah, you can go on to the next call, as weird and minor as it is compared to what you just, and then go home, and not talk to anyone (who wants to know anyway? who would you want to think that maybe you’re weak for all these thoughts in your head?) and go back to work the next day, to wherever you are assigned.
For years, it’s there … “I wonder if he lived.” You doubt it, and you don’t want to know. You put it aside. As much as you can. You recall that someone you spoke with suggested that you destroy the jacket you put over him. It could be tainted with blood that might be infected with AIDS. Might have been one of the ambulance guys, might have been one of the police, might have been one of the persons you worked with.
“Yeah, after all that, the best advice is that I should make sure the jacket I used to try to comfort him is destroyed in case the victim had tainted blood…..”
Nothing about how your mind and heart might have been tainted.
And you wonder all those years, “Should I have expressed my care more? Should I have found out if he survived? Should I feel guilty I did not want to know? Or was afraid to find out?”
I Mislead About Being Shot At
The second most harrying thing that comes to my mind occurred at the housing project I was assigned to, when I resigned. Lawrence Heights. It’s a huge trigger when I hear about death, shootings, and other things. I have only told one other person about what really happened that night. I did not lie about it, but I did mislead.
For those that don’t know, Lawrence Heights is the largest housing project in North America. Or at least it was, as of 20+ years ago. I knew it well from my years on mobile backup, as well as being assigned there, and it was the last housing project I was assigned to work. It can be a tough place to work, but it can also be an easy place to work, if you take the time to “get to know” the characters and develop a rapport. By 1999, my own philosophy was quite at odds with the “new” enforcement philosophy that was taking place in MTHA. Over the years, I had from experience and talking with others that had experience themselves, formed the attitude that “a stat is a failure” along the lines of this Peel Principle:
“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”
When I worked, I tried to keep the “stats” as low as possible, and I knew my community. I knew the leaders, the wanna-be leaders, the parents, and I was not interested in building stats for stupid things like parking infractions or numbers of POT’s (Provincial Offence Tickts) that could easily be done. In fact, by that time, a silly supervisor had decided to give me an annual evaluation on which I was given an extremely low score on “Makes good use of legislated authority.”
“Hey, you know, the Prime Minister has the legislated authority to invoke the ‘War Measures Act’ but has not done it. Does he get a low score too? Let’s go for a walk during this evaluation and see what’s going on,” was my response. Didn’t go over well, but that was okay – I had other ideas in mind.
When I was a child, I had always wondered what it was going to be like when the year “2000” came along. By 1999, with shift work interfering with my ability to see my children, my own despising of the growth of philosophy towards more “stats” and “enforcement,” and a shift that had been taking place in my own mind about freedom, crimes that were “consentual” and which I would later become a member of LEAP – “Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,” and some ideas I could maybe be successful in another business, I was determined to leave.
December 31, 1999 saw me celebrate New Years – at work. There I sat, alone, bringing in Y2K, alone, when as a child, I had often wondered, with excitement what that year 2000 might be like to bring in. I committed myself to never ever being forced to work a Christmas or New Years Eve again. And so I made extra efforts on the part-time business I was trying to build.
By the time November, 2000 came along, I was in a position where I could take the risk. I would lose a lot… that pension… the guarantee of a regular income, but, I was ready. In mid to late November, I wrote out my resignation letter. It was scary. But I had to do it. Then I went off for some regular days off.
I came back to work for my final 8 days of full time employment (I had offered to fill in over the Christmas/New Years HOlidays that were upcoming if needed).
A few days before my final day of that final employment….
It was late at night. I don’t recall if it was a response to a call, or a general patrol. I think it was 11 Flemington Park – my memory has the addresses mixed up now, but whatever the address, I can assure you that if it has not been found yet, and that overhang still exists, you’ll find a bullet.
Whatever it was, I was standing underneath the overhang of the back door, and there were 10 to 15 “disorderlies” that really needed to be dealt with. It is the one time I’m not proud of how I dealt with a situation; I was just so looking forward to not having to deal with this kind of situation again. There were youths there that I knew, but also some that I did not know and who were not from the local area. One of those non-locals and I had words.
Suddenly, he turned around, I saw the glimpse of a gun, and then “pop” – and “ping” right above my head. Ping into that overhang.
“Don’t show fear, Ian.” So I stood there, staring him down, while some of the others I did know yelled things like, “Bloodclut man, you nearly had your head blown off… and you just stand there!”
I knew, but I could not believe it. Or at least, I could not show “them” that I believed it. Or that I was scared. The guy who fired at me was running around, so I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to try again. I took two slow steps toward the entrance and requested back up, but I did not leave. I kept staring him down when I could catch his eye. He kept turning and yelling at me.
Eventually, the “disorderlies” left the area.. but for me, it was a weird moment – I Had only a week or so (or less) to go, and this happened, and my spirit was one of never wanting to deal with it, in court, or more investigations, so in my occurrence report that I wrote up, I never wrote that I had been fired upon, rather I used some term about a “projectile coming toward me.”
Yet to this day, those moments often haunt me…
There are many other incidents – and I don’t say this only about me; I know many of my peers experienced the same or even worse, or more frequent. Some of them are dead. I know in private conversations, most of us know we’ll never get the help we should have had back then, and because we were not “full police officers,” the recognition for what we did, endured, and actually at times, did better than many police officers today. And I’m not looking for that kind of recognition.
And yes, we also worked with some idiots as well, which is again, another story for another day – the times I nearly arrested my own backup because they were just…. egotistical jerks.
Any ways, if you are interested. Perhaps some day my sons will be interested, and not imagine the day to day things, and fears for themselves, but what actually often went on for real, and will have a better understanding that was not afforded to me back in the day, because I did not think it was right to do so, back then.
I personally wish much of it had never happened. I wish what had happened to some of my peers, which was worse than to me, had never happened.
I wish I was strong enough like some (but now I think they are probably psychopaths) to have just dealt with these types of things, as if it was normal and had no effect.
I’m not really sure what “strength” is sometimes.