Blue Line

A back-up to remember

“Thirty-one-O-two... thirty-one-O-two... Attend the drug store at Weston Road and Finch. A man causing a disturbance.”

Seemed like a routine call and I wasn’t too far away. A man causing a disturbance was a routinely-heard radio call but there’s no telling what you might face on arrival.

November 30, 2009  By Morley Lymburner

“Thirty-one-O-two… thirty-one-O-two… Attend the drug store at Weston Road and Finch. A man causing a disturbance.”

Seemed like a routine call and I wasn’t too far away. A man causing a disturbance was a routinely-heard radio call but there’s no telling what you might face on arrival.

“Ten-four on that dispatcher. Any other information?”

“Nothing here – just a call that a person is yelling in the store.”


It was 1715 and things were busy. I suggested back-up if it was available. “Just handle
the call, 3102. It’s pretty busy out there you know,” he growled.

Police dispatchers of that era were coppers on the glide path to a gold watch or else they were already looking at one for their time checks. One quickly learned they were not to be trifled with. They were, without exception, male, grizzled, cynical, had done it all and had a “sixth sense” about every call dispatched.

They knew every street in the city and could tell you where to get a good veal-on-a-bun or a free coffee with a little “extra” on a cold night. They understood what coppers were doing even before they did it. They could tell by the tone of your voice or your call history that you were having a gab fest with another car behind a plaza. Just when you thought you put one over on the old street supervisor their booming voice would crackle over the radio sending you to another call. You could meekly object that you were just finishing up the last call but he would somehow know your coffee was getting stale and the lively conversation could wait.

They excelled at chases because they knew every nuance of every street, alley and dead-end cul-de-sac. They would artfully move converging cars in an ever tightening net until the pursued would see police in all directions. No helicopter patrol could envision the chase nor foresee its conclusion clearer then the old-timers manning the mics. They could tell by the sound of an officer’s voice when a chase should be called off. Few supervisors would dispute their knowledge and experience because they knew the collective wisdom in the communications bureau outweighed any semblance of their own self importance.

There was a downside to this brain trust. If short on patrol cars an old dispatcher trick would be to change the call description so only one car instead of two had to respond. A domestic dispute on a very busy night would become an “unknown disturbance” call, for example, requiring only one car to respond and report if backup was required. They would gamble that something was available if backup was needed. The problem, of course, was that far too often things went sideways very fast.

An officer often had to venture some distance from their car to check out the call. Scout car officers rarely had portable radios and, even if they did, their transmission range was sketchy at best. By the time it became obvious backup was needed, the officer would invariably find himself on the ground wrestling a suspect into submission.

“One is in custody,” the officer would radio back upon reaching the scout car. The victorious dispatcher would get to take another two-car call off their list with a car to spare. Things looked normal when I arrived at the drug store and I couldn’t see anything unusual through the window. I entered and a cashier with tell-tale saucer round eyes pointed toward the back. I headed down the long aisle toward the dispensary.

The pharmacist looked at me and, using his eyes, directed my attention to a thin man with the hood of his green parka pulled over his head. The man had his back to me and was rocking back and forth. As soon as I spoke, he spun around and lunged at me with a plastic butter knife. I raised my arm to redirect him and saw the blade break as it struck my coat sleeve. The ferocity of the subsequent blows to my body and head took me completely by surprise. I reeled back while he continued screaming and pummelling me with his fists, managing to grab one arm while he continued hitting me on the side of the head with the other.

The man’s screams were deafening. I grabbed his other arm and quickly realized this seemingly frail man was very strong. Obviously high on speed, he had sought out drugs from the only source he could think of.

We both fell to the floor and I managed to roll on top of him but had no idea how I was going to control such a violent person. A knee and arm suddenly crashed down on the suspect and I heard a reassuring voice say “here, I’ll give you a hand.”

Must be an off-duty officer, I thought. I was almost right – it was my partner’s highschool age son, Steve Sanderson. Turning the wired suspect over we managed to put on the manacles and carry him, kicking and screaming, to the cage in the back of my car. With a big broad smile he shook my hand. I thanked him and suggested he might visit our recruiting office. He simply smiled, laughed and said “no thanks.” He must have had other plans even at that tender age.

Steve went on to found Accident Support Services and, as president, has maintained his tradition of backing up every copper on the street.

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