Riding With the Thunder Bay Police

If you know me or have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know I currently work for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). As I said when I compared Texas law enforcement to Wisconsin law enforcement, I would have never guessed I would be working for a law enforcement agency. I do find the caveats of law enforcement interesting, and with the traveling I do, I like to learn new things and discover the world around me.

One thing I thought would be cool is to do a ride along with the Thunder Bay Police, since I was going to visit Thunder Bay. This would allow me to get a unique view of one of my favorite places to visit and also allow me to learn how they do things in Canada in terms of law enforcement. I’ve already experienced the differences in the 911 system, when I had to call for an ambulance for a guy we found having a seizure on the sidewalk. Obviously, there’s a few differences between the US system so it would definitely be cool to see the differences on the other side of the 911 system.

When people in the US think of Canadian police, they think of the Mounties. In reality, there’s pretty much the same structure there is in the US. The RCMP Mounties are the federal police like the US Marshals. There are also provincial police, which is like the state police. TABC is actually a state police agency in Texas. Then you have the local police, which is what Thunder Bay Police is.

When I told people this, they thought it was crazy and wondered how I, not even being a Canadian citizen, would be able to do this. It actually was a pretty easy and straightforward process. I sent an email asking them if they did ride alongs and then also sent them a link to my blog. Within a couple hours, I received a phone call. They took down my information and ran a background check. It sounds like it was the standard NCIC background check that is performed at the border or when you buy a gun in the US. Essentially, if you can pass a background check to be let in Canada (which Canada does have pretty strict entry requirements when it comes to criminal offenses) in the first place, you should be able to pass the background check to be able to do a ride along.

They told me if I didn’t receive a confirmation on the time by Friday AM, to email them again. I did so and I was then told to call the Staff Sergeant. I then called him and arranged that I would do a ride along at noon.  A little before noon, I showed up at the police department.

They had me sit on a chair and wait in the lobby.

After a while, the Staff Sergeant came out. I talked with him a bit and found out he was retiring soon and would be moving down to Texas for the winter. When he mentioned where he bought property, it was close to Harlingen, which is close to Nuevo Progreso, Between going to Tourista Day and buying boots, I have been to Nuevo Pregreso a few times.

Shortly after, Constable Kushnier pulled up in a squad car.

The first interesting thing I found out was the structure. It was slightly different in the names compared to TABC but the following is a comparison:

  1. Regular officer\agent in US is a Constable in Canada. This is interesting because in the US, a Constable is like a Sheriff.
  2. The next rank of Sergeant is the same in the US and Canada. This is basically a supervisor for the regular officers.
  3. The next rank of Staff Sergeant oversees the rest of the Sergeants. I know TABC has this rank but I am not completely sure if they are quite the same.
  4. Above the Staff Sergeant is the Inspector. This would be equivalent to Lieutenant in the US.
  5. Obviously, Thunder Bay is a lot smaller than Texas so they do not have the rank of Major. TABC does have a rank of major that oversees a region within Texas.
  6. Then from there are the Deputy Chiefs and the Chief. TABC has several different chiefs that are head of their respective area and they report to the Agency Director. Since Thunder Bay’s police department is strictly a policy department and not also a regulatory agency like TABC, the Chief there is essentially the Agency Director.

Now every department has its own chain of command structure depending on its size. They all generally follow the same structure, but there may be less of a command structure and less ranks for smaller departments and more ranks for larger departments. The way they do the command structure is the US and Canada does appear to be very similar.

After I was picked up, we hit the streets of Thunder Bay.

I noticed that technology that was in the vehicle. I asked a few questions about it. It appears Panasonic products are popular among law enforcement, especially their Toughbooks and Toughtablets. TABC has the Toughbooks, whereas Thunder Bay Police has Toughtablets.

These tablets would show the dispatches and, while the programs appeared to be different, the same functions could be run such as criminal background checks. After a little bit of driving, we had to head back to the station because the Constable had a meeting. I sat in the lobby and waited for the meeting to get over.

By sitting in the lobby, I overheard a lot of conversations the officers were having with people calling in. I’m sure this is evident at any local police department, but it seemed like a lot of calls were people either calling in because they are lonely or they couldn’t solve basic issues of their own. I remember overhearing an officer telling someone it was a good idea to join a fitness club and the benefits of it. The phones were ringing off the hook a lot of the time and the officers seemed pretty patient. When people think of cops, they just think they’re out to arrest people for breaking the law. It was apparent that in Thunder Bay, the police also provide a social service that helps the community out.

After a while, we were back on the road again. The first call was a welfare check. They had knocked on the door and nobody answered. I was told, “This will most likely be a body or nothing.” This is another gruesome task that police have to do. I know when my neighbor passed away, it was the police that were the ones who had to come in and discover him after he had been dead for a few days.

Since nobody knocked on the door, they decided to go inside the house and check. The easiest and less destructive way to get in was the basement window. It was kind of funny watching Constable Kushnier first try to climb in, realize his belt was preventing him from being able to fit through the window, so he handed it to the other officer, and then he was able to climb in.

Fortunately, they found a recently written note by the person regarding their blood sugar who they were checking on. It was assumed all was well and he was just gone from the house. The next call dealt with a guy who hit the gas instead of the brakes while parallel parking. He did a lot of damage to the building.

Also, his truck took a number.

The building took enough damage, they had to call the power company out to inspect. In Canada, they refer to the power company as the “hydro” company.

The next call we had was a breaking and entering. There was not an active burglar there so this was more of an investigatory call. After this call, we got a little break to patrol the scenic route of Thunder Bay. It was an absolutely beautiful day so it made a good day to look at some scenery.

 

After looking at the scenery a bit, we receive a call about a domestic disturbance. This wasn’t actively going on and the lady reporting it after the fact. She ended up being too drunk to give a statement, so they were going to follow up with her at a later time. One thing I found out about Thunder Bay is there’s not a huge drug problem like this is in the US. I was told it seems like the meth and heroin problem stops at the border. There is somewhat of a prescription drug problem, but the main problem is alcohol. I know Wisconsin, being a big drinking state, has some problems with alcohol also so I’m sure the cops there see the same sort of issues.

We were able to see a bit more scenery after this call.

 

The next call was to what appeared to be a Thunder Bay city workshop. The alarm system had went off and notified the police. This same thing happened in Marshfield when I did the ride along there. It also ended up being a false alarm. I guess it’s a good sign the alarm companies are on the ball when it comes to working with the police any time the alarm goes off. We hit the road shortly after confirming everything was good to go.

One thing about Ontario is liquor is only sold in province-owned stores. This is the LCBO store. I visited one in Nipigon one of the last times I was up. This is definitely a stark contrast from Wisconsin, where you can buy liquor out of a gas station. From a cop’s perspective, it makes policing the drunks a bit easier. We did pass by the LCBO store and were watching for people to start drinking in public. After the security alarm call, we caught someone doing this and it was demanded they dump the alcohol out. The lady who was about to chug it was told if she took a drink she’d go to jail so she handed the bottle over to one of the men in the group and he dumped it.

One thing I learned is how they police in Thunder Bay. We all know the US does lead the world in mass incarceration, so I almost assumed someone would be arrested. In Texas, you would have most likely gone to jail for drinking in public. Even in Wisconsin, you would have probably been given a $200+ citation.

In Canada, it seems like they take the opposite approach to incarceration. They will try to do anything else before sending someone to jail. Even when someone is sent to jail, it is a goal to find some alternatives to keeping them locked up. It’s obviously the complete opposite of the, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” attitude that is in the US.

Now the interesting thing is, you hear about Canada’s laws and you think they’re very strict with things. I mean I’ve seen signs for their hands free law in vehicles stating it’s a $500 fine and 3 demerit points on a license. Most states don’t make talking on a cell phone without a hands free device illegal, but merely make texting while driving illegal (or if they wanted to use a law that’s been on the books for years, distracted driving).

Talking about differing state laws, there is not a difference in the Criminal Code throughout Canada. It is all uniform throughout Canada, so the actual criminal laws are the same no matter where you go. This is very different from the US, where state laws vary widely. A prime example of state laws varying is the current marijuana laws. In some states it’s completely legal and in other states, possession can be a felony and land serious prison time. In Canada, the marijuana laws would be the same no matter which province.

Now with the seemingly strict laws of Canada, it appears the officers are given a lot of discretion and, going with the friendly Canadian stereotype, it does seem like they will allow people to catch a break.

After yelling at the people drinking in public, we were on our way to another car accident.

This accident was enough of an event to attract the local news.

You could tell it was Canada with the metric system. The fire truck gave it stay back distance in meters (or metres by the Canadian spelling).

After the accident, it was time to go back to the station. Speaking of nice Canadians, this guy was a completely jackass driver. Not only did he cut us off in the police cruiser, but when we tried to pull him over, he tried parking on the sidewalk and then was yelled at to park on the road. We had to follow him a block or so and he finally pulled over. He was just given a stern verbal warning and nice butt chewing.

After this stop, we were able to make it back to the police station without any other idiot drivers being idiots right in front of a cop. The whole day was an amazing experience and I learned a ton about law enforcement in Canada.

Some other things I learned is, because of the stricter gun laws, most weapons issues actually involve knives and not guns. I also found out that, because Thunder Bay is kind of the midpoint between Toronto and Winnipeg, there is a large transient population that passes through. Another issue that does happen in the US also are police complaints from the public filming incidents and only getting part of the story.  This is pretty much the same as in the US with police complaints, open records requests, and videos going viral on YouTube.

I do want thank the Thunder Bay Police and Constable Kushier for allowing me to do this ride along. It was an amazing experience and I learned a ton.

Disclaimer: Like I had to do in my last blog entry on comparing law enforcement in Texas and Wisconsin, the views and observations reflected in this blog entry are mine and are not reflective of my employer, TABC.

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