HOW A BIG-CITY POLICE FORCE REALLY WORKS
Hitting back at charges of stupidity, inefficiency and brutality, the veteran leader of Toronto’s 2,500-man force gives a Maclean’s editor a rare behind-the-scenes look at the true life of a cop. Beginning a major series
CHIEF JAMES MACKEY
I SOMETIMES THINK that the words of the wellknown song, “a policeman’s lot is not a happy one,” have never been truer than they are today. The impression is abroad that a large section of the public "hates” the police and that we, in turn, are the sworn enemies— rather than the servants and friends — of the public.
We are described at times, as being stupid, unreasonable, dictatorial, cruel and even sadistic. We have been accused of deluging motorists with parking and speeding tickets for no other reason than that we enjoy doing it. It’s been claimed that we frequently violate the basic democratic rights of citizens by using unnecessary force when we make arrests and by promiscuously firing our guns at suspects. Several times a year, flaming newspaper headlines proclaim that we have forced a “confession”
METROPOLITAN TORONTO POLICE
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“We don’t make laws — only enforce them”
out of a hapless suspect hy means of incessant grilling and beating — all carried out under the blinding glare of powerful lights in a soundproof room at headquarters.
I am disturbed and dismayed by such grim reports of police activities. The reason is simple — this is just not the way things are. The headline writers and I evidently live in two different worlds.
1 would like to set the record straight about the policeman’s job and the way he performs it. I have been a policeman in Toronto for twenty-four years. Before becoming chief of Metropolitan Toronto Police, I did just about every kind of job on the force. I walked a beat on foot, prowled the city in cruisers, woiKed in the morgue, investigated hundreds of serious crimes as a detective and performed a variety of desk jobs. During this time I came to know thousands of policemen and the way they behave. Anyone who makes a blanket condemnation of the police is talking through his hat. The police force is made up of dedicated, hard-working men performing an unusually difficult task—preventing crime, protecting the lives and property of citizens and apprehending criminals who have broken the law. Being human, we occasionally make mistakes. But who doesn’t?
The first point I’d like to make clear is that, from where I sit, there’s no evidence that most citizens hate us. To be sure, there are professional criminals who are known as “cop haters.” For example, Steve Suchan, the bank robber who was executed in 1953 for the cold-blooded murder of one of our detectives, talked of how much he hated the police and swore that he would “get them” some day. In preparation, he spent his evenings in the basement of his home, firing away at a mannequin to perfect his aim. On Sunday afternoons, during the summer, Suchan and members of his gang would drive out to a deserted field near Pickering, twenty miles east of Toronto, and take hundreds of practice shots at targets. There’s another hoodlum—a chap I’ve known for years—■ who, when drunk, assaults the first policeman he happens to see. He once told me. “I don’t know what happens; I just don’t like the sight of that damned blue uniform.” Fortunately, such examples of extreme hostility are rare.
On the othéf hand, each year hundreds of citizens write us warm and appreciative letters. They far outnumber the complaints. Many are from people whose property we have protected or recovered. Of five million dollars’ worth of property stolen in Toronto last year (not counting cars), we returned almost $2Vi millions' worth to the rightful owners. But most of the letters are to thank us for services which don’t ordinarily come to the public’s attention. I regard these deeds as important, because it shows that our men carry on their duties in a humane, conscientious manner. One Sunday last winter, for instance, Police Officer William Clifton discovered a family at the point of starvation. The father was in bed, weakened by hunger and illness; the mother and three small children hadn't had a nourishing meal for a week. After taking the man to a hospital in his cruiser, Clifton and other officers collected food for the mother and the children, arranged for the family to temporarily receive public assistance and, finally, found a job for the father to go to upon his discharge from hospital. His wife later wrote, “A grim time was made happier and brighter for all of us.”
We recently picked up a seventeen-year-old boy for stealing a car. His mother was so impressed by the fatherly interest our two detectives showed in her son that she wrote, “We thank God that your men found the boy ... He is now determined to keep out of trouble and prove that he is worthy of their respect and confidence.”
These letters, of course, don't prove that everyone loves us. Many people criti-
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“One ingenious criminal used a movie camera to photograph storekeepers opening their safes“
cize us for various reasons. But I do feel that much of the criticism is not due to our errors or poor judgment, but because of misunderstanding. Most citizens are unaware of the countless problems we face in policing a large city.
Consider the sheer magnitude of our task—to protect the lives and property of 1 fir million people in an area of 245 square miles, containing property assessed at $3Vz billion. “Protecting life and property” covers a lot of ground, such as supervising five hundred thousand registered vehicles as they travel twenty-five hundred miles of roads. This entails handing out six hundred thousand traffic tags and [investigating twenty thousand accidents a year. We are responsible for enforcing a staggering list of municipal bylaws and regulations, provincial and federal statutes, as well as the Canadian Criminal Code. Criminal offenses are less numerous than non-criminal ones, but we handled thirty-seven thousand criminal cases last year—an average of one hundred a day—and they take time and skill to investigate.
Lite every large city. Toronto has its share of criminals — murderers, thieves, burglars, holdup men. blackmailers, pickpockets, shoplifters, arsonists, cheque artists, embezzlers, confidence men, sex perverts, abortionists, drug peddlers.
The modern criminal is difficult to catch because he has become smarter and more skilled and takes advantage of the latest scientific inventions. It's often hard to tell the difference—outwardly at least —between a “successful criminal and a respectable citizen. Twenty-nine-year-old Kenneth Leishman of Winnipeg, who is now in the penitentiary, used to drive his black Cadillac from his suburban home to the airport, board a plane for Toronto, rent another expensive, conservative-looking car when he arrived, check in at an exclusive hotel, make an appointment with the manager of a large bank, rob him and then hop the first flight back to Winnipeg.
More and more crimes are carefully planned. The big-time crook doesn't act on impulse. He blueprints each stage of his operation like a businessman planning a major sales campaign. The trio who recently stole thirty thousand dollars from the Hospital for Sick Children, for example, first showed up at the hospital on a Thursday morning, carrying tools and a ladder. They explained that they were electricians, who had been asked to examine the wiring in the walk-in vault. Once inside the vault, they tampered with the locking mechanism so that it would open easily and instantly at some future time, when it would be convenient to make the haul. On Sunday (which is visitors’ day at the hospital ) they returned, dressed in conservative business suits, slipped into the vault and carried their loot out in leather brief cases. There have been twenty-five operations of this kind in Toronto in the last year.
The equipment used by the criminal today is up to date. We arrested one man and found an ingenious, battery-operated drill that fitted into his brief case; he was using it to break into telephone coin boxes. We nabbed one thief who had a device for tapping telephone wires. He used it to listen in on the conversations of people in private homes and offices to learn something about their movements. Another criminal had a movie camera
with a telescopic lens, used to photograph storekeepers from a discreet distance as they opened their safes, thus giving him the combination. We've caught forgers with elaborate mechanical devices for reproducing the intricate markings used by
banks to show that a cheque has been certified.
To frustrate such sophisticated criminals — as well as carry on all the other police duties which 1 have mentioned earlier—Metro Toronto Police has a total
strength of twenty-five hundred, operating on an annual budget of fourteen million dollars. These men and women have a lot more on the ball than mere muscle and brawn. Many of them are specialists, serving on squads and bureaus organized
lo cope with a particular type of activity —homicide, criminal investigation, traffic, auto theft, hit-and-run, holdup, breaking and entering, fraud and forgery, fingerprinting and photography, morality, youth and women. Unlike policemen of previous times, these people need a lot of training. We now operate our own police college, where both rookies and experienced officers take courses. But even that isn't enough. We send men to the New York Police Department to learn the technique of bomb disposal; to the f ederal Bureau of Narcotics in Washington
to learn about the drug traffic; to Vancouver. to study more efficient methods of patrolling water-front areas. Members of our force are continually taking advanced training courses at a dozen universities throughout North America. Many of our officers have trained with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and it is still our privilege to send personnel on training courses conducted by these two great forces.
Even with all this preparation, the policeman will often find his job difficult.
Some of the difficulty can be blamed on public confusion about the law and enforcement of the law. Whenever people do not respect a law, they become angry at us. I wish they would realize that we don't make the laws — we only enforce them. Under our democratic system it's possible to get rid of unpopular law's. But as long as a statute remains on the books, as police officers we are required to uphold it.
Speaking of laws, there are at least two changes that I would like to see made as soon as possible. The first is this: a
citizen should be required to give his name and address to the police, upon request. At present, nobody is obliged to give us this information. The Criminal Code gives us the right to investigate anybody suspected of having committed a crime or about to commit a crime. But. for some reason, we can't insist that the questioned party identify himself. To me. this constitutes a legal loophole through which a guilty person may escape arrest. I should say that most good citizens readily answer questions we put to them. One of the most vocal opponents to our request that people be required to identify themselves is a well-known professor of law'. I’ll put this question to him. “Supposing there had been two or three breakins in your neighborhood during the past few weeks and suddenly, one night, you look out your living-room window and you notice two strange characters loitering near your house. Would you — or would you not—want the police to ask them w'ho they are and what they're doing near your home? Or, suppose some individual was standing near where a swastika had just been painted on a synagogue. Should this individual not be required to give his name and address?” I am most certainly not suggesting that we deprive the people of Canada of thenrights and liberties, but it is my belief that we are being prevented from giving our citizens the degree of protection they deserve.
Why not wire tapping?
Much has been written recently about wire tapping. This privilege would give the police a powerful weapon in the constant, uphill struggle against crime, which is increasing yearly over the whole North American continent, and would help control widespread gambling operations (an acknowledged breeding ground for crime) by professional gamblers. In 1957 a special three-man tribunal was set up in the United Kingdom to report and make recommendations on telephone tapping. The tribunal stated that interception of telephone conversations and letters had produced no harmful consequences, but had proven effective in detecting major crime and dangers to state security. It further stated that telephone tapping had proven particularly useful in frustrating diamond smuggling. It revealed that every wire tap in the year 1957. with one exception, had led to an arrest. Between the years 1953 and 1956 the London police had arrested fifty-seven percent of the dangerous criminals whose telephones were tapped.
We police are grateful for the assistance given by the press. However, many headlines tend to mislead. A few' months ago this glaring headline appeared in the press: CHARGES POLICE HELD GUN AT HEAD. The impression created by the headline and story was that a tw'cntyyear-old motorist had a gun held at his head by a policeman simply because he had disregarded a detour sign. This story aroused a great deal of public indignation. The police force was attacked in editorials and in letters to editors. The Association for Civil Liberties issued a statement, “It is appalling to think that in this day and age one can actually have a gun pointed at his head by a policeman.”
Now, let me tell you the police side of the same incident, which has never been publicized. The young motorist crashed into a detour sign and was given a signal to stop by a police officer on duty. He disregarded the officer and three times tried to manoeuvre his car into position to get away. Finally, he
drove straight at the officer, apparently intending to run him down. As the car approached, the officer pulled out his gun and ordered the motorist to halt. Independent witnesses saw all this happen. It should be explained further that the youth was no ordinary motorist. It was later discovered that a bench warrant was out for his arrest and that he was driving while his licence was suspended. In a three-month period preceding the detour sign incident, he was charged with going through stop signs and traffic lights, speeding, careless driving, impersonating an officer and racing away from a service station without paying for a tankful of gas. Only a few hours before he crashed into the detour sign, he had been harassing a police cruiser by alternately tailing and passing it. When the officer driving the vehicle warned him that he should go on his way. he replied, “I want you to give me a summons." When the youth was finally brought to court, he was sent to a mental hospital for observation—a fact which the newspapers either ignored or buried deep inside their pages.
Here's another instance of where the police were unnecessarily given a black eye. Last July a front-page headline read, BEATEN INSENSIBLE IN OFFICE BY COP'—FIND HER IN PARK. The truth of the matter is that—despite the headline—no member of our force was involved in this incident, or was even in the area at the time.
The headline was based entirely on the woman's vague statement that she had been attacked by a man "dressed something like a policeman."
Since many newspaper readers only scan headlines, I'm sure that to this day, thousands of citizens have the impression that one of our men assaulted an innocent woman. We've never found the alleged assailant.
Some TV programs accurately portray police work, but others are misleading. If you watch enough programs like Perry Mason, you can't help but believe that police detectives are a bunch of dumb clucks who have to depend on a brilliant private eye to do their job for them. You may also get the impression that our detectives spend most of their time in expensive bars or posh apartments—with a sexy, streamlined blonde within easy reach. This is pure nonsense. Crimes are solved by persistent, systematic investigation. We also feel that TV courtroom scenes showing a witness being bullied by defense counsel hinder our work. No Canadian judge would tolerate a witness being abused, yet the impact of TV is such that I'm sure many potential witnesses refrain from coming forward
through fear of having to undergo an ordeal in the courtroom.
Perhaps the abundance of crime stories on TV is. to some extent, responsible for the public's apathy to real crimes. Nowadays most people seem to accept crime as a necessary evil. They rarely get excited about it. except when they themselves —or their close friends—have been victimized. Most of the time they regard law-breaking and law enforcement as none of their business. Unhappily, this attitude doesn't make the policeman's job any easier — or safer.
A few months ago. Constables Donald Driver and David Bailey were on duty in a dance hall in New Toronto. They were jumped from behind while attempting to break up a tight. Both officers were knocked to the floor and so badly kicked on the head and face that they were unrecognizable to their friends. During the entire incident not a single person came to the officer's rescue. One rainy day. on Bloor Street, one of our motorcycle men went into a skid on the streetcar tracks. He fell to the road and his vehicle toppled over on him. As he lay helplessly
on his back, he could sec traffic continuing to flow around him. Some forty cars went by before anyone offered to help him. On another day. near the University of Toronto, another motorcycle officer hit a parked car and was thrown against a brick wall. As he lay bleeding and barely conscious, he could see a couple of university students looking out a secondstory window in a building across the road and laughing uproariously at him.
At times, the public's indifference to crime is both callous and shocking. I’m thinking of two incidents that occurred
just before Christmas. On Centre Avenue, a twenty-two-year-old man slipped up behind a woman, put one hand over her mouth and grabbed for her purse with the other. As she struggled with the thief, she screamed loudly for help. Two men, less than twenty yards away, stood watching for several seconds, then nonchalantly sauntered off. A few days later, on busy King Street East, a young man with blonde hair and a red windbreaker picked up a ten-year-old girl and carried her, screaming and kicking, an entire city block to a school yard. Then he raped her. No one made a move to help her.
Our investigation of this rape case was handicapped by still another kind of public apathy — the reluctance of people to act as witnesses. They give us different reasons. Some don't like the publicity; some say they can't afford to lose pay while testifying in court; others are afraid the accused, or members of his gang, will harm them. (I've never known this to happen to a law-abiding citizen.) In my opinion, none of these reasons is good
enough. The citizen has a definite obligation to help the police apprehend a suspect and to assist the court in determining his innocence or guilt. The willingness of witnesses to testify would lighten the policeman's job. because, in almost every serious crime, somebody can give the police some useful information. Often there’s at least one person who knows who the culprit is. Yet. when our detectives conducted a door-to-door canvass on King Street to elicit information about the rapist in the red windbreaker, nobody would talk.
It was an all-too-typical reaction, and yet I don't want to leave the impression that all citizens are uncooperative. Recently, our Board of Commissioners of Police began giving citations to individuals who have helped the police in some outstanding way. During the first few months thirty awards were made. One went to a cab driver who had helped an officer arrest a violent suspect and received a broken nose for his pains; another Canadian who
had gone to the rescue of a woman being molested.
Ironically, some of our most eager helpers are seasoned criminals. Not long a»o, a veteran thief reported to us that he had taken shelter in the basement of a building one rainy night and noticed a machine gun and several automatic revolvers hidden in a corner. We picked them up. Another person, who has served time, gave us a complete run-down on a manand-wife shoplifting team. 1 hey w'ere arrested with a thousand dollars' worth of goods with the store tags still attached.
Actually, most professional criminals don't dislike the police. They accept being caught as a normal occupational risk and they w'on’t resent it, provided the police officer has their respect. A few months ago, a murderer who had just been sentenced to death told the detective who had caught him, T got no beef against you guys. You’ve been decent to me."
The public’s indifference to the law and law enforcement is, in some degree, a reflection of modern society. Today,-there seems to be a resentment of all authority aad discipline. Go to a football or hockey game and notice how consistently the referees are booed by the crowds. Many parents are loathe to correct their children. Recently I was in a supermarket when a five-year-old child placed a jar of jam in his mother’s shopping cart. She returned it to the shelf, and he gave her a sharp kick in the shin. The mother did nothing to him, except smile and pretend it didn’t hurt. I can’t help wondering what violence this child is going to resort to later in life, when he finds there are all kinds of things he can’t have. .
I think that many parents unconsciously implant in their children a feeling of antagonism toward the police which stays with them for the rest of their lives. Fathers spend a lot of time motoring with their children. It’s not uncommon for them to refer to traffic officers as “speed cops’’ and to ask the children to keep their eyes peeled for them as they exceed the speed limit. Thus, the police officer is being presented to the impressionable child as a threatening, hostile figure who is to be outsmarted on every possible occasion. And you’d be surprised by the number of parents who use the policeman as a bogeyman. Actually, in all my years of police work, I have yet to see an officer being unkind to a child. It’s a common sight, in our various police stations, to see officers treating lost children to ice cream and other goodies—all paid for out of their own pockets.
Perhaps the greatest disservice some parents do to their children today is to deprive them of proper guidance and supervision during their adolescence. Many of these youngsters get into trouble and are seen by our Youth Bureau. We recently had a thirteen-year-old boy who, in a three-month period, was charged with five different offences, including the use of force to take a wallet from another child and stealing from newspaper coin boxes and parked automobiles. The boy had no father and his mother worked every night until ten. Whenever we apprehended the child, the mother became abusive. "My boy wouldn’t do such a thing," she would protest. "You fellows are always picking on him." We picked up a thirteen-year-old girl in a restaurant for being drunk. She had several boy friends, some of them twenty-one years old, whom she entertained in her own home. There was always a generous supply of liquor on hand. The girl had all this freedom because her mother was dead and her father worked a night shift.
Many people think the police should spend a lot of time and money preventing
delinquency by organizing a string of youth clubs. I disagree. Don’t misunderstand me—I think boys’ clubs are wholesome and beneficial. In fact, our police force is active in youth work in a limited way. But I don’t think youth clubs are our responsibility. As I’ve said before, the police job is to prevent crime, enforce the law, protect the lives and property of citizens and apprehend criminals. The operation of clubs for potential delinquents is a job for other community organizations. We’re spread out thinly enough, without taking on added duties.
At a recent international meeting of police officers one of the speakers said: "Many senior police officers spend more time attending recreational and social work seminars than they do teaching rookie constables how to handle the belligerent young loudmouth who is raising merry hell in the neighborhood."
As chief of Metropolitan Toronto Police. I hope 1 never lose sight of the importance of giving rookie constables proper and adequate training. The entire future of our force depends upon the quality of our training and the super-
vision of neophyte officers. Within a year or two. we can tell which recruits will develop into good officers and which ones will not. You seldom have to fire an unpromising policeman — he drops out on his own. There’s a reason for that: the work has so many disadvantages that only a person who loves it stays with it.
Consider all the difficulties. A wellplanned and well-regulated family life is impossible. Nine out of ten policemen will work on shifts and on most weekends during their career on the force. When an officer kisses his wife good-hy
in the morning, she doesn’t know when she’s going to see him again. If a murder, a kidnaping or any other important crime breaks, entire squads of officers are expected to work around the clock, gathering evidence while it’s still hot. Sometimes this means going for forty-eight hours without sleep. One of our men recently hid out for days in the apartment of a wanted criminal, awaiting his return. He existed on a meagre diet, in a cold room, without a telephone. His wife knew nothing of his whereabouts, except that he was “staking out a joint.” When detectives don’t return home on schedule, their wives switch on their radios to hear if a murder or serious holdup has taken place. If it has, and the suspect is known to be a hardened and triggerhappy criminal, the anxiety of the wives deepens.
Policemen must often forfeit the celebrations which are enjoyed by other people. Most work Christmas and New Year’s days. I recall how 1 celebrated one New Year's Eve. A man and his estranged wife decided to observe their reunion by having a little private party in a hotel room. The party ended by the husband killing himself, but not before he had stabbed his wife sixty times. I came upon their ghastly remains just as a clock outside was striking midnight.
Being a policeman means that you are often the harbinger of bad news. On many occasions officers have had to tell parents that their children have been killed in an accident. 1 remember a boy who slipped off his bicycle, because it was too large, and was crushed to death beneath a passing truck. For two weeks, the lad’s father had planned to add lifts to the pedals, so he could reach them comfortably. The father burst into tears when he heard the news. I know that he will spend the rest of his life blaming himself for his son’s death.
Being a policeman also means risking your life many times each year. We come in contact with characters who are desperate. vicious and, sometimes, just plain sick. Some of them will pull a gun on you, without warning. Sergeant of Detectives Eddie Tong, for example, met his death as he approached a car to question a driver, who was acting in a suspicious manner. The occupants of the vehicle happened to be bank robbers Leonard Jackson and Steve Suchan. Tong was shot down in cold blood. Another member of the force was walking toward a loiterer on Spadina Avenue, in broad daylight, to find out if he knew anything about a burglary that had taken place in the neighborhood. He was shot with a sawed-off shotgun the man had concealed under his coat.
These are some of the reasons you don’t stay in police work unless you really like it. As for the advantages, I think the main one is that you have that feeling of being of service to your fellow citizens. Another is that the work is anything but monotonous. Every day brings with it fresh situations, fresh problems, fresh challenges. Being a policeman is like constantly being seated in a theatre, watching an absorbing drama unfold before your eyes. The dramatis personae are ever-changing and of infinite variety. Some are ordinary citizens, temporarily betrayed by powerful emotions or the victims of circumstances beyond their control. Others are cunning, ruthless criminals who customarily live by violence and chicanery. ★
The inside story of how the police force deals with these diverse characters will he told in oilier instalments in this series.