Calling All Cars

The long arm of the law is now a quick-acting arm, thanks to police radio

LESLIE ROBERTS October 15 1935

Calling All Cars

The long arm of the law is now a quick-acting arm, thanks to police radio

LESLIE ROBERTS October 15 1935

Calling All Cars

The long arm of the law is now a quick-acting arm, thanks to police radio


PICTURE a busy corner of Montreal’s teeming East End. Freezing rain has laid a crust of ice atop snowcovered side streets; main arteries carry an overburden of ruts and hummocks between the tramway lines. It

is one of those skid-and-say-your-prayers days about which nothing can be done until nature turns to kindlier humor.

Two men cruise at slow gait in a small sedan, talking idly of this-and-that. Nothing much has happened all morning. It looks like a quiet day, which is a matter of satisfaction to the man at the wheel, what with the weather and the condition of the roads.

Suddenly a Voice speaks from the region of the back seat. “Char trente-sept!”, it says in peremptory tone. Easy going conversation ceases. As the Voice continues the car turns

about, slithering and bouncing across the ruts. Before the French-spoken order is completed the pace is increasing and a siren begins to utter demoniac yells. Then the command is repeated in English. “Car Thirty-seven!” snaps the Voice. “Proceed to Number 8,721 Souligny Street. A bank hold-up !”

This is not Car Thirty-seven of the Radio Patrol, however js is Car Thirty-three, operating in a. sector adjacent to that of Thirty-seven. But hold-ups are major crime, carried on to the tune of spitting tommy-guns and sudden death. Hence, when such events occur, zone rules and patrol areas are abandoned as the newest arm of society’s anti-crime shock troops, and its most mobile, goes into action.

Within two minutes Car Thirty-three swings into Souligny Street, only to learn that the robbers had flown before an excited banker could reach his telephone and report the removal of important money at the gun’s point. Then the Voice speaks again. Car Thirty-seven will stand by to collate whatever clues may be available. Car Thirty-three will return to its own area.

Ten minutes pass. Thirty-three is proceeding along Hochelaga Street near the railway crossing known as the Eastern Tunnel. The day has resumed its air of peace. But suddenly the Voice in the Back Seat speaks again. The bank robbers are reported to be heading toward the comer of Pius the Ninth Boulevard and the Saint Michel Road. Get going!

Down goes the gas pedal again. On goes the siren. Over three miles of icy streets, at better than sixty miles an hour, the little car races to its rendezvous with crime; through red lights, across busy intersections, past safety zones and moving street cars. In little more than three minutes the specified comer is reached and Thirty-three pulls up at the curb. Here all is peace. Are they early or late? Or have the bandits changed their minds and the direction of their flight? The only thing to do is to wait and see.

A minute goes by. Two or three harmless-looking automobiles pass the comer and proceed about their lawful occa-


sions. The dove of peace continues to hover above the meeting-place of the boulevard and the Saint Michel Road ; just another wild-goose chase, it seems. Then things begin to happen^A light delivery truck comes careening toward the corner at top speed. Constable Coté steps out from the running-board of the radio car and signals the oncoming driver to stop; instead he goes through without relaxing pace. By the time the officer can regain his own runningboard Thirty-three is irimotion, taking up the pursuit.

Down Saint Michel Road race pursued and pursuer. Speedometers touch fifty, 'fifty-five, sixty-five, until needles waggle beyond the seventy-mile mark. Over ice-glistening pavements the chase goes on. Coté opens fire through the raised windshield, sighting on the rear tires of the fleeing truck, while Senecal, the police-driver, clings to his wheel, hopeful of checking the skid which at any second may fling them against the curb and into the Reaper’s arms. Suddenly a series of bulbous-shaped missiles aire flung on to the roadway from the rear of the pursued car, each to shatter into a hundred fragments on impact. Glass! So now the risk of sudden puncture is added to those of the chase. But pursuit

goes on unabated.

Gradually the police draw closer to the heels of the bandits’ juggernaut, though bottles continue to fly and to shatter. So, inch by inch, Senecal edges up until, at the corner of Saint Michel Road and Poupart Street, nearly two miles from the point of origin of the pursuit, the guerillas are driven into the curb and make haste to abandon ship. The patrol is too fast for them, however. Before Thirty-three is brought to a halt across the truck’s bows.iÇoté is out in the road, brandishing his revolver and demanding surrender. Senecal is beside him in a second and the hold-up crew is backed against the wall of a building, where Senecal frisks them while Coté’s revolver holds their arms aloft.

The result? Five badly-wanted denizens of the half-world journey down the long trail that leads to the cells of Saint Vincent de Paul. A total of $1,837 in currency, sum of the hold-up money, goes back to the till of the Banque Canadienne Nationale. One light delivery truck, stolen in a side-street as the result of a broken axle on the hold-up car, is returned to its lawful owner. Punishment is meted out for this and half-a-dozen other crimes of violence with which members of the bandit coterie have been identified. The cost? Eleven dollars worth/of broken milk bottles, ammunition for the barrage of broken glass laid in the path of an onrushing police car on the Saint Michel Road. So reads one chapter from the log book of Montreal’s Police Radio Patrol, one chapter of many.

n Patrol

T)OLICE RADIO is still in the post-innovation class in so

far as Canadian éíties are concerned, but is rapidly coming to be recognized by those charged with the maintenance of public safety as the greatest forward step against crime taken in the past century. Winnipeg was the first community to introduce short-wave contact with far-flung motor patrols. Vancouver was not far behind. Then came Montreal, inaugurating, on November 5, 1932, the most orate system in the country and one which has few equals on the North American continent. Halifax and Ottawa have added radio patrols to their police establishments recently. Toronto is following suit. Quebec is studying estimates and so is Windsor. Quebec’s Provincial Police are even stated to be laying plans for an elaborate allprovince hook-up which, when operated in conjunction with urban broadcasts, will spread an almost impenetrable dragnet across an area of two or three thousand square miles. It all began in 1923, in Detroit. Since then, this newest development in the realm of apprehension and prevention has spread to the four winds of the continent, completely revolutionizing police methods by fastening wings to the oversize brogans of the force.

Montreal’s interest in this so-called “innovation” began when Fernand Dufresne resigned from the Bench of the Recorder’s Court to assume charge of the metropolitan Sûreté at the turn of the current decade. Charges of inefficiency and worse could be heard on every side as the new Director cast about for ways and means of speeding up the functions of his forte. Because radio appealed to the modern-minded incoming Chief as the shortest cut to increased efficiency, he delegated to Deputy Director Barnes the task of studying the subject, with the result that Barnes soon presented a book-length manuscript complete with recommendations. Dufresne appealed to the City Fathers for an appropriation. Barnes and Captain Georges Gagnon, current officer-in-charge of all Montreal’s radio-policing activities, were sent to Detroit to study the operation of the system in its American incubator. Soon City Hall, under constant pressure from the Chief, provided the necessary budget. Northern Electric engineers installed a broadcasting station. The Purchasing Agent shopped for cars which

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would combine mobility with economy of operation. Into each went a short-wave receiving set, unseen back-seat driver of the patrol. Then Mayor Rinfret went across Champ de Mars to Police Headquarters and put the first call signals on the air to inaugurate Canada’s most ambitious radio-policing project. „That was in 1932.

Today, fifty-three cars of the Montreal Police Department are radio-equipped. Fourteen definitely zoned units patrol the metropolitan area twenty-four hours a day. Outlying cities, such as Verdun, Lachine, Longueuil, Outremont and Ville La Salle operate their own cars, but receive their signals from the central broadcasting office, station VYR, atop Montreal’s Police H.Q. Verdun has even embarked on an experiment with radio-equipped motor-cycles and boasts that its speeding officers can hear signals in full clarity while moving at eighty miles an hour. High-toned Westmount has not acquired patrol cars yet, but maintains constant contact with the island-wide operation through its own police bureau.

Crime Hunting by Car

"X/TONTREAL’S broadcasting unit has a 1VX guaranteed radius of thirty miles, ample protection for the widespread metropolitan area, but its calls have been heard byshort-wave addicts at points as far removed as Hamilton, Ontario and Pittsburgh. Eight announcers divide the vocal-contact chore, young men selected for their perfect bilingualism and for the complete absence of any pseudo-Oxford accent. There isn’t any fan-mail department; the job is to apprehend criminals, not blondes.

The duties of the radio squad cover the complete gamut of crime from murder to small-scale pilfering, taking in en route such minor tasks in the preservation of Peace, Order and Good Government as the settlement of neighborhood disputes and the rescue of pet kittens from telephone-pole perches. No less than 5,760 calls were broadcast to patrol cars during July alone. Through rapid-fire contact with its officers the police found and restored 134 strayed or lost children to anxious parents during June and ninety-two in July, a fair average. The radio policeman can find your wife’s pet peke, or your stolen car. He sniffs out midnight fires and awakens the occupants of burning houses. Burglaries by the score are nipped in the bud when the radio car flashes through the streets, makes a twowheel turn into the back lane and breaks up crime at its source. Arson, mayhem, stonethrowing gamins and householders who allow blaring radios to ruin neighbors’ sleep, all come within the purview of the cop on the automotive radio beat.

A tour of duty in one of Montreal’s patrol cars brings home sharply to the eyeand earwitness the close contact which has been established between the citizen and the forces of law and order. On a recent evening, for example, this observer journeyed abroad as a passenger in Car Twenty-one, patrolling one of the congested central areas of the town. At midnight we pulled away from Station Number Four, Constable Rochon at the wheel, Sergeant-detective Marsolais in charge, the Voice and your operative in the back seat. For thirty-five minutes we cruised idly about our precinct, listening to calls booked for other cars and discussing the modus operandi of the system. Then, just before twelve-forty, as we were proceeding slowly along Park Avenue, Headquarters barked its first peremptory command, a summons to make haste to a dingy sidestreet in the Tenderloin, where a fight was reported to be in progress.

Car Twenty-one spun in its tracks. Down Park Avenue we raced, full out, through the red light at Sherbrooke Street, across Ontario with the siren shrieking its warning, over the Saint Catherine Street intersection

and on into the frowsy mews whence the call to action had come. The fight was over. Behind the dingy brick-front of our destination reigned an unnatural air of peace. In the principal room of the house a blowsy old crone nodded beside a half-empty bottle, while the proprietor protested his complete innocence not merely of brawls as they might relate to his domicile, but of all Donnybrooks, no matter their locale. “All right, mon père,” Marsolais chuckled, after investigation of adjoining rooms had revealed the presence of numerous persons lost in slumber, but apparently clad for immediate exit, “you win. C’mon, boys. Let’s go!”

Car Twenty-one resumed its patrol. The Voice spoke now and then of minor difficulties here and there, relating to other units of the squad. The Lachine radio men were instructed to hasten to a given address in their bailiwick for something which smelled of murder but wasn’t, as it turned out. Down in the East End a lady Holstein was declared to be at large, after breaking away from suburban moorings to wander downtown. Up west suspicious characters were reported in the lane behind a great apartment house. But none of these things concerned us as we coasted through dark streets, smoking and debating, if I remember rightly, the Alberta election result.

Then the Voice spoke again: “Char

Vingt-et-un!” Cigarettes went out the window. As directions came through in crisply enunciated syllables the speedometer began to move toward forty. Within the minute we were across the line of our own precinct into the area patrolled by the car which attends to the peace of the dignified purlieus of McGill. This was burglary, and burglary may mean trouble. Twenty-one raced into the lane behind the given address. Searchlights illuminated the danger zone. Another car arrived. Householders were questioned. But the burglars, taking fright, had fled, empty handed.

The second car to arrive remained to Í honeycomb the district, for the clarion call “Char vingt-et-un!” (Car Twenty-one to you!) urged our immediate attention to events proceeding at the corner of Sanguinet and Saint Catherine Streets, where two young blades of the town were engaged in an attempt to drive a car up the side of a building. We arrived. The young gentlemen objected to unseemly interference with their project, until Marsolais pointed out that they might damage their car. Would the young' citizens mind accompanying us? They would, resisting the suggestion with force, if necessary. The sergeant remonstrated, drawing on the reserve supply of sweet reason which any midnight policeman must carry as his principal stock-in-trade. But remonstration and persuasion were out of the question. So the young men slept in the cells at Number Four. And so far into the night . . .

A Quiet Night

rT'HERE were no murders that evening.

T Nobody set fire to the City Hall. No knives flashed in the Tenderloin. Nobody so much as bit a dog. Sergeant Marsolais seemed to feel that his guest had been treated shabbily. Certainly a city of one million, souls should be able to produce at least one good outbreak of major crime when a wandering wordsmith goes in search of copy. But the luck was out. Or was it? Wasn’t this the actual picture of an exceptionally efficient police system working along normal lines? My inclination is to say yes. True, all that could be shown for a night of crime-hunting were half-a-dozen madcap races through the streets behind a locomotive-esque siren, followed by expeditions into residential district backyards, tumbledown Tenderloin joints and side-street mêlées. But that is the normal par for the course. Of those 5,760 calls sent out in July, more than

5,000 were concerned with the minor problems of policing a big city. The point to be stressed is that radio brings the police right up to the heels of trouble, great or small, reducing to an absolute minimum the criminal’s escape-period in matters of major crime and bringing the immediate’intervention of Authority in the innumerable minor problems of metropolitan life. This new arm of the law not merely increases the efficiency of the police and the safety of Big Town life; it brings home to the citizen in no uncertain manner the fact that he is being safeguarded, and so adds to the householder’s sense of domestic security. In Montreal nowadays a phone call will bring the radio squad to your door in three minutes or less, no matter whether your problem is one involving robbery with violence or the inability of your little daughter’s pet kitten to make its way down from the roof.

The essential ingredient, obviously, is speed. Car Twenty-one, for example, cruises a zone squared by the river on the south, by Pine Avenue a mile or more to the north, Saint Denis Street on the east and Saint Alexander on the west. Within this congested area traffic lights abound. Tram lines thread it, here, there and everywhere. Bus routes bisect it. It contains nine main east-west thoroughfares and three major north-south arteries. An old section of the city, it abounds in streets which jog, in culde-sac alleys and narrow by-ways. It contains the harbor, the financial district, a majority of the great office buildings, the main tramway termini, factories, courts, markets, the City Hall, all the teeming life of a great metropolitan centre. But Car Twenty-one, eyes and strongest arm of the law in this congested area, can reach any given point in its zone in a space of less than two minutes, no matter where it may be cruising when a call comes through. Compare this with the days when policemen came around from the station on bicycles, or when it was an hour’s job to find the cop on the beat and you will begin to catch the sense of speed and efficiency which radio has given the police force. The men on the job feel it and approach their tasks with greater confidence, because they know they are equipped for any duty they may be called upon to perform.

Co-ordination and Speed

CLOSE co-ordination is the secret of police radio’s success. Calls reach the main police switchboard and are relayed immediately into the broadcasting station, whence they reach their destination in the tonneau of cruising cars within a space of seconds. Action, in fine, is immediate; not merely action at Headquarters, but action on the firing line. Closely zoned cars are able to check every call on an instant’s notice. In calls involving major crime close contact with Headquarters enables the men at the helm to send immediate help, either from adjoining sectors or direct from the base, and to spread the dragnet without delay to close avenues of escape. Coded signals, for use in times of emergency, keep secret the movements of cars and the deployment of reserves. The system not only brings splitsecond action but enables the force to concentrate its reserves at key points in times of duress. There is, then, something new under the policing sun. Today, while the merchant sells his goods, while the householder sleeps, while the bank teller counts his cash, while children wander from parental doorsteps, while inquisitive cows stroll downtown and cats climb trees, the eyes of the law move quietly about the town, always on the qui vive, poised for immediate action whenever the Voice in the Back Seat may utter its crisp word of command.

Here, then, is a bird’s-eye view of the greatest single advance made in the realm of public safety within the past century. Here are Montreal’s new heroes of the constant war on crime, these two-minute men of the radio patrol, these policemen of the winged heels. Voilà!