First Night On the Beat

10:45 p.m., December 22, 1987. Toronto, Canada. Winter.

“Get off my chair.”

I was sitting in the Parade Room at 52 Division where I was a shiny new police officer, ready for my first shift. Those were the first words that were said to me by the guy who would become my coach officer and partner for the next six months. I quickly discovered that there was a clear pecking order here, and that I was at the bottom of it. I also found out that my coach officer had just been transferred back to uniform after a long and illustrious stint as a plain clothes officer in another unit and was not too pleased to be saddled with a recruit.

Back then, we did what was known as Stand Up parades. Just as the heels of Parading Sergeant’s boots could be heard clicking down the hallway,  someone would yell ‘ROOM’, and we would all jump up and fall into a line, hats on, backs straight, memo books in one hand, other arm tight to our body. The Parading Sergeant, clipboard in hand, would walk along the line, look us up and down to ensure that our hair was cut to regulation (including facial hair…clean shaven or carefully trimmed moustaches–no beards back then!), we had all of our equipment with us, and that our uniforms were crisp and clean.

The Parading Sergeant would stop and sniff occasionally when he was in the vicinity of officers who were known to take a drink now and again.

Once we all passed inspection, we returned to the rows of tables in the room, ready to take down whatever information the Parading Sergeant had for us.

First thing would be to read out the list of officers and assign them their partners for the shift. As a rookie, I had the same partner every shift–a practice I adopted as often as possible throughout my policing career. And then the Parading Sergeant would read out the Metro Alerts, which included anything of importance that was happening in the city. And then he (and it was ALWAYS a he back then, despite the numbers of women in policing in Toronto) would read out the descriptions of people wanted in the division and any other relevant information that we might need for the shift.

As a rookie, my lot in life was to walk the beat for six months. It was also the lot of my coach officer, much to his dismay, although he was much better equipped for the weather than I was.

I recall that very first night walking up a deserted University Avenue with the frigid wind blowing through my skinny polyester uniform pants, slipping and sliding on the slushy ice in my shiney leather-soled uniformed boots. I also vividly recall wondering what the heck I had committed myself to as my coach officer and I spent the next 8 hours in silence, walking up and down the empty streets and alleys of downtown Toronto

It was a long, cold start to what turned out to be a fascinating career.

Until next week, I’m 10-7 for shift.

Desmond Ryan – Real Detective. Real Crime. Fiction

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