My husband at the time and I were standing in the airport on our way to a previously booked trip to Mexico. He had just been laid off and was super depressed.
I was trying to cheer him up and said, “This is a golden opportunity! You can do whatever you want! Be whoever you want!”
At that moment he saw an RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officer across the way and said, “Okay – I want to be a police officer.”
“Well let's make that happen when we get back!”
When we got back from Mexico we went to an information session with a local police department and my ex was immediately hooked.
At that time I was feeling unchallenged in my career and trying to figure out what I should do. My ex was striving to become a police officer, but I was frustrated that I wasn’t giving more to the world. I was employed as an ‘instructional designer’ – creating online education and user guides for software programs – but I wanted to do something different. Something more.
In order to understand more of what my ex would be dealing with on daily basis, I started volunteering in the Victim Services Unit of a neighboring police department. There were a lot of tough cases that came to me because other people didn’t want to or couldn’t handle working with them. The bad stuff – the rape and abuse and incest. After some time volunteering I applied to law school and the police force and was accepted to both within a week of each other.
When I announced I was becoming a cop all my friends and family members were shocked. They asked me all sorts of questions: “What about the university degrees?” “What about the time you spent working in the corporate world?” But I knew it didn’t matter because I wasn’t happy. My family was terrified but supportive.
Immediately following graduation from the police academy I was deployed to the most drug-addicted and impoverished zip code in the country. I was a ‘beat cop’ out walking the streets. My first night on duty was Halloween. As I was toured around I felt like I had rolled into the bar scene from Star Wars – everyone looked so alien to me.
During my time on the beat I learned about the drug trade. Street level drugs – crack, heroine, meth and whatnot. The value of a human life was different on the streets, but I still treated people with compassion. While we were dealing with people I’d check in with them: “How’re you doing?” “Where did you sleep last night?” “Are you keeping warm?” “Have you talked with your family recently?” The other police officers teasingly called me ‘the preacher’ because it appeared that I was more concerned about social welfare than law enforcement.
When someone was on heroine, the street term to describe them was, ‘on the nod’ because even though they’d be standing, their head would continually nod downwards. They looked like they were asleep – like the walking dead – but they were actually conscious.
One time I was dealing with a young woman who was ‘on the nod.’ She was in her early twenties. Maybe just twenty. I’d seen her before. She was a 'lifer' on the streets – an addict and a prostitute. A completely marginalized member of society.
Other people acted as if she wasn't there, as if she wasn’t a person. But I didn’t feel right acting like that, so I asked her questions and treated her like she was a conscious participant. She didn’t respond to me that night but it didn’t prevent me from engaging with her.
A few nights later I saw her again.
She walked up to me and said her name was Angie. She said she remembered me from that night and asked me for my name so I told her.
“Thank you.” She said. “I’ll always have your back out here because you treated me with dignity and respect when nobody else did.”
Over the next few years Angie made a point of regularly seeking me out on the street to check in and make sure I was ok and see if I needed anything – information, help, whatever. If we went a few months without connecting, she’d ask other police officers to deliver her handwritten notes to me. I still have one of those notes. Even after I left policing, Angie continued to pass messages to me through officers I stayed in touch with. Of all the other police experiences over the years, my connection with Angie – that human connection – was by far the most powerful.
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