It was Halloween night, 1978 but it might as well have been the Wild West for a young Lyle Beaudoin. Fires were being set and fights were breaking out in his hometown of Delta, BC but the 19 year old wasn't part of the chaos – he was trying to prevent it.
It was Beaudoin's first shift as a reserve constable with the Delta Police Department (DPD) and he remembers the night as an 'eye opener'. "We had vans of officers and reserves driving around putting out small fires," Beaudoin said. "It was the youth against the police."
There were hundreds of calls and the wide-eyed Beaudoin was in awe of the bravery shown by officers, who he remembers as fearless. That first shift didn't scare Beaudoin off – it only reaffirmed his desire to be a police officer. For the next ten months he managed 20 hours a month of volunteer time while holding down a full-time job and attending school part-time.
Today, as the DPD celebrates 125 years of policing this mix of urban and rural communities, the reserve constable program is a success story worth telling. Beaudoin, now one of two DPD deputy chiefs, recounts stories of the late 1970s and of the program that gave him his start.
"I didn't like bullies. I liked people who wanted to help the underdog and I wanted to catch the bad guy," Beaudoin said. His mom phoned the department when he was 13 to find out what he needed to join. Five years later after graduating high school the department showed a little more interest and he was encouraged to join as a reserve member.
"I was able to ride along with some great officers," Beaudoin said. "They spent time coaching and mentoring me and I got great foundational training." In his ten months as a reserve constable, Beaudoin said he went to a cross section of calls, everything from robberies and break and enters to sudden and impaired driving deaths. He and his partner officer would see up to 30 calls some nights.
There was no formal training for reserve constables back then. Learning was mostly done in the cruiser's passenger seat. "We were expected to be a back up member to the constable we were riding with," Beaudoin said. He recalls hand writing the radio '10 codes' in the cruiser and memorizing them for his next shift.
It was a time before most of today's modern police conveniences. There were no cell phones, in car computers or spike belts. Officers wrote notes by hand or on typewriters and carried revolvers, not pistols. No one had ever heard of DNA testing, the Young Offenders Act or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In his early years as a sworn member, Beaudoin said there were also no warrants. A designated RCMP officer with a 'writ of assistance' would accompany Beaudoin and his team into houses suspected of having drugs, "like a walking authorized warrant," he recalled.
Beaudoin became a sworn member of the DPD in September 1979. One year earlier, the department had shifted its hiring practices, committing to drawing from its pool of reserves rather than from outside departments or applicants without prior training. "The reserve constable program reaffirmed everything about policing for me," Beaudoin said. "I learned that I was able to stay calm, cool and collected and got some great reviews and reference checks."
While the fundamentals of the program have remained the same, training and activities has evolved over time. Its current role is also much more professional compared to the 1970s and 80s. "We can't expect them to be out there unarmed without proper training," Beaudoin noted.
Police farm team
Most Delta Police reserves are accepted because they want to be sworn members. Beaudoin said his 1979 class had 20 or so reserves but only five or six really wanted to be police officers.
Fast forward a couple of decades; 109 reserves went through the program between 2003 and 2012. The DPD hired 44 of them and 20 now work with other police agencies.
"This really is our farm team," noted Mike Van Hove, inspector in charge of administration. "Like the Vancouver Canucks, we have our own farm team and it's an outstanding recruiting tool."
Today's reserves help regular members with community events and crime prevention activities and, like in the 1970's, still have the opportunity to ride along while on patrol. "Their work is still extremely valuable, it's just different," Beaudoin said. "They took us pretty green back then."
Nine reserves constables were sworn in this year. Cst. Sandy Sernoski, who heads the program, believes many will go on to be hired as regular members. "Their resumes are impressive," said Sernoski. Many of the class of 2013 are in their early to mid 20's and have loads of volunteer and coaching experience. One has taught English overseas and another graduated from university with full honours. "Our reserves go through our program and get first hand experience they can't get anywhere else." Sernoski said.
Beaudoin's career path has covered all of the ranks, including some that no longer exist in municipal police forces. He was promoted to corporal in 1989, sergeant in 1993, staff sergeant two years later, then superintendent and finally deputy chief in 2004.
All the while a fellow officer climbed the ranks just a step behind him. Rich Drinovz was in the same class as Beaudoin. "I had already decided I wanted to be a police officer before I became a reserve officer," Drinovz said. "It gave me the opportunity to confirm in my own mind that was what I wanted to do. I got a first hand look at what it was like. It was exposure you can't get anywhere else."
Since 2009 they've shared the responsibilities of deputy chief; Beaudoin is responsible for operations and Drinovz administration.
"Lyle was always a step ahead. When he was promoted, I would follow a year or two later," Drinovz said.
Both men juggled a couple of part time jobs and post secondary education while serving as reserves – and even though they were in the same class and signed up just six months apart, they didn't get to know each other until 1983. That's when they both joined the emergency response team, which was then part time. "We always worked in completely different sections before that," Drinovz explained.
Looking back on his first reserve shift, Drinovz says it wasn't at all like Beaudoin's. "We started at 8 in the evening and by 9, we were at the Chinese buffet for dinner. By 10 o'clock we had pulled onto the side of the road parked under an overpass and the constable I was training with fell asleep."
Drinovz remembers thinking "you've got to be kidding, what am I doing here?" Not long after Drinovz remembers the shift supervisor happening to drive by and saying something on the radio. "The officer I was with woke up and the rest of the night was spent on the road – a routine Friday night."
Getting to that first shift was fairly easy for Drinovz. "I showed up at the front counter wearing nice clothing. The sergeant in charge of the program looked me over and took some basic information. A few days later I was at the monthly training session and then out on the road."
Today, Delta reserve constables fill out the same questionnaires, have the same background and security checks and take the same polygraph as regular members. "Ninety nine per cent of our reserves want to be a regular member so we do the same checks because we need to ensure they have the highest integrity and meet the same moral and ethical standards," Sernoski noted. They are required to take five months (90 hours) of classroom and practical training before they get to the road.
After successfully completing their training they are issued body armour and everything members carry on their duty belt except a firearm – a far cry from 30 plus years ago. "We didn't have much equipment," Drinovz recalled. "Just a simple uniform, a nylon jacket, handcuffs, a flashlight and a note book."
"They are committed," Drinovz said. "They invest in their work, volunteer experience and are excellent candidates for regular members."
Drinovz recalls "as a new police officer it was just you, the bad guy, your note book and finger prints. You could get a blood type but there was a lot more emphasis on investigation and interviewing skills – interviewing was a big part of an investigation."
Over the years policing has become more sophisticated but no less dangerous. "In my day it was rare for an officer to come across a handgun." notes Drinovz. "Today our officers could encounter a suspect with a gun any day of the week."
Drinovz took on the responsibility of coordinating the reserve program when he was promoted to corporal in 1990. "I took my duties seriously and worked hard to improve the program," he recalled.
New provincial funding in the early 90s bolstered the program and it has never looked back. In the early 2000s Drinovz recalls other departments having issues with their programs and Delta became one of the few to continue allowing reserves to ride along in patrol vehicles. "We were one of the last ones standing. Later other departments began reviving old programs but we were able to remain fully operational."
Back when he was a reserve officer, Drinovz never thought he'd be a deputy chief, never mind the first deputy in charge of administration. "I just wanted to do operational police work. Being a road constable or on the ERT was living the dream.. but it's been a highly fulfilling career."
For a couple of guys from East Vancouver, the journey to second in command has been a rewarding experience.
"It's an honour to be part of a legacy where so many have served over the past 125 years in keeping Delta a safe place to live, work and raise families," Drinovz said.