I haven’t had much contact with law enforcement. The odd speeding ticket, a few parking tickets. Oh yeah, there was that time on my 19th birthday when I was spread-eagled by an OPP officer on the ground at the side of Hwy 45 near Cobourg. But that was all a misunderstanding. On my part.
And I’m willing to admit that I’ve been guilty, usually of something minor, far more often than I’ve been busted for it. Haven’t we all?
I’ve called the cops a few times. Once, living in Montreal, I was walking home late at night and suddenly smelled a gas leak, so I dialed 911. A neighbour came out to ask me what was going on when the police and fire engines arrived, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips.
As a kid, I never wanted to be a cop. The only uniform I wanted to wear at the time had a big, blue Maple Leaf in the middle of it.
If I have no criticism of regular cops based on my personal experience, I have a different view of detectives or inspectors or whatever they are. I’d always assumed the cops without uniforms were promoted based on merit. At least that’s how it seems on the TV shows I’ve watched.
My first experience involved a break-in at a ground-floor apartment I’d recently moved into in the heart of Vancouver’s West End. I’d been away for the weekend at a wedding, and when I arrived home on Monday morning, I saw that my place had been broken into. I closed the door and called the police.
Some investigators arrived, assessed the situation, noticed the broken window, dusted for prints, and said they’d give me a call. The next day, while I was at work at the newspaper, I got a phone call. “Are you Mike Gasher?” “Yes.” “Do you hear that music playing in the background?” “Yes.” “It’s yours.” The caller was a friend of the burglar, and wanted to exchange my stuff for the money I allegedly owed the thief.
When I was able to convince the caller that I wasn’t the one who owed the thief money, there was a silence. Then an apology. And then he gave me his address and phone number so that I could come pick up my stuff.
I immediately called the detectives, who came up with a master plan. I would arrange to meet the caller to collect my belongings in the north-east corner of the nearby Mr. Submarine parking lot, where they would have a sting set up. I pondered this scenario for a second, then said: “He gave me his name and address. Why don’t you just go get him?” They thought that was brilliant detective work on my part.
My second encounter with police-in-suits was more frightening. I woke up very early one morning to the sound of breaking glass, and when I looked out my bedroom window, I could see the building across the lane was ablaze. It was a seniors home, so my first thought was to rush over and help people out of the building.
Halfway there, I remembered that the home had closed and was being renovated. So I ran back to my apartment to get my camera and take some pictures for the newspaper. That’s when Sgt. Pepper – oops, sorry – pulled me aside for some questions. It turns out a neighbour had spotted me running away from the burning building, so I was being suspected of arson. Apparently, arsonists like to witness their fires, and often take photos. The detective smelled my hands, examined my shoes, confiscated my film, and recorded my name, phone number, and address. He would be in touch.
My only thought then, having read Kafka, was how do you prove you didn’t do something? Especially when I’d been alone and there was a witness claiming to have seen me running away from the building?
A few days later I was asked to come to the police station. The detective put me in one of those interrogation rooms you see on TV and asked me a series of questions, repeating each one. It was very intimidating. “Did you start the fire?” “No.” “Did you start the fire?” “No.”
After about 15 minutes, he said he had insufficient evidence to charge me and returned my film with the developed photos. Finally, he said sternly, he had a couple of last questions before I could go.
“So, you’re a sportswriter?” “Uh-huh.” “What do you think of the Canucks this year?”