Celebrating the Ontario Police College’s 50th anniversary brought back many memories of my days at that venerable institution. I was one of 32 freshly sworn members of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force sent to take basic training alongside several hundred other Ontario cops. It was both a culture shock and an experience that never quite leaves you.
The OPC was made mandatory for all Ontario officers about ten years before my arrival. A rather optimistically described conversion of a Second World War Air Force training base, its numerous wooden aircraft hangers and several “H” hut barracks still held together, in a fashion, 30 or so years after being constructed. The barracks had two long 32-bed halls linked in the middle with washroom and shower facilities.
Before leaving Toronto’s college we were warned the OPC overfeeds officers, doesn’t have enough physical education and knows nothing about proper drill procedure. The old salt instructors warned us to run extra hard and expect re-training when we returned. Few of us had yet been issued uniforms and left for the long journey through southwestern Ontario with a half-paycheque in our sports coat pocket to tide us over.
After a three-hour drive and considerable searching I found what was to be my home for the next three months. A long gleaming tiled floor lead to an older man crouched over a newspaper, lit by a small desk lamp, sitting at a small steel desk. He handed me a pillow, sheet and scratchy grey blanket and directed me to one of the 64 tube frame institutional beds with a mattress rolled up at one end. After setting things up and placing my suitcase on top, I headed for the sound of a playoff hockey game – but not before being rather sternly warned that lights go out at 10.
I directed a large number of my straggling compatriots to the barrack’s troll as I headed for the television. After the game I re-entered the barracks to see many people milling about, setting up beds and arranging luggage. As promised, the lights went out right at 10, prompting many oaths and not-so-tender language as everyone scrambled to find their beds in a mostly darkened room.
The old gent at the desk turned on his flashlight, yelling that it was sack time and everyone had better get themselves in order. I needed no such warning as I was already in the sack and ready to drift off.
Morning brought the realization that sleeping with 60 other men – and their predilections to snoring, insomnia, flatulence and incontinence brought on by over-imbibing during the hockey game – would be a challenge. Even worse was the strange red spots over my legs and arms. This was my rude introduction (and eventual tolerance of) bed bugs. “Just bang yer bed before you crawl in at night,” the night watchman sagely advised. “They’ll take off for the night.” Never was sure if it worked but there did seem to be fewer bites when I complied.
One day I was pulled from class and taken to the college director’s office. As I entered his office I noted there was a large quantity of cash stacked neatly on his desk. They do periodic locker checks, he advised, and would very much like to know what I was doing with so much money.
It was my accumulated pay cheques. I had no bills to pay and there was no rent or charge for meals at the college so I had simply tucked pay envelopes into my locker each pay day for the last two months.
Why don’t you just deposit the money in your bank account, the director wondered. I didn’t have a bank account since I never accumulated enough from my previous jobs to actually save anything. Rather bemused, he looked over to the deputy director and suggested he accompany me to town to open an account. I signed his memo book as a receipt for the money and gratefully accepted the assistance.
For me the OPC was my first coming of age – the opening of a new world, a new lifestyle and experiences which I had never dreamed of having. My life and the land would change once more as I returned to my home police service after basic training, and lessons came quickly over the next few years.
Gratitude for lessons learned makes a person willing to give back. The feeling of responsibility to in-turn teach younger officers was made far easier by the examples so many others showed me over the years. Instructing others is far more than a job – it is a public trust and a surviving thread which leads from past generations to the society of tomorrow.
During this 50th year of the Ontario Police College one must admire the dedication and drive of its staff, directors and instructors. They have become committed to a higher standard by continuously refining the skills necessary to maintain a public trust.