Finding something interesting to do has always been an enjoyable challenge. After years specializing in traffic and looking for new ways to challenge myself, I realized one day that no one on my 6,000 member police service was assigned to inspect trucks. Now there was, I decided – a squad of one.
The interesting question was where to begin. I decided the best way to start would be to learn from the drivers themselves. Truck driving was one of the jobs I had a "cup of coffee" doing before police work turned my head. That experience was helpful when talking to truckers I stopped.
After making it clear I would only charge the owners there was no shortage of truckers eager to show me the ropes. I was shown how to conduct a standard circle check for defects, including air leak locations, slack adjusters, drag wheels, bogies, clearance lights and what a RGW meant. The best phrase I was told about was the "glad hands". I liked that descriptor because that was what was happening. Drivers were glad to give me a hand because they didn't like the junk they were forced to drive. They had to put bread on the table and when the boss says its "the highway or no way" objections tended to melt away.
My boss called me in after a few weeks to note the great job I was doing and assigned me to inspect trucks full time. He asked me to put together a list of items I would need to do the job properly. I wrote out what seemed a modest request for a jump suit (so I would not mess up my regular uniform), tire tread depth gauge, work gloves, crowbar and helmet.
I was called back a few days later and informed that my 'exorbitant' list had been rejected. Shirts and trousers were issued anyway, as were winter gloves, which would be fine for this work. A crowbar could be borrowed from the departmental garage and a helmet was only issued to motorcycle officers. I thanked him for looking so diligently into this on my behalf and, in the usual fashion BBS'd (bought, borrowed or scrounged) the materials I thought I might need. Hey... it all works.
Several more weeks passed and my reputation in the field grew among the truckers. My biggest concern was the number of drivers showing up at my spot checks with a dozen donuts and coffee. One visiting supervisor found the dash of my scout car full of cups of cold coffee and the passenger seat loaded with four boxes of donuts.
'Are the drivers trying to bribe you?,' he asked. I raised my pen from the ticket book long enough to gesture at the stash of 15 sets of license plates on the rear seat, the line of disconnected trailer units behind me and two tire installation trucks busily working on tractors and their trailers.
"These guys swamp my location every day. They are just a little too overjoyed with me taking the plates off their trucks. Many simply take them off themselves, bring them over and give me a list of what is wrong. Boss, I don't have enough time to negotiate bribes."
Fast forward 20 years and I am invited to attend an interforce truck inspection location at a large parking lot near Toronto's busy Highway 400. It was an amazing sight. Transport ministry inspectors were joined by officers from Toronto and York, Waterloo, Halton and Peel regions, along with all their toys. More than 80 officers inspected heavy trucks wrangled from the surrounding highways by outrider police vehicles.
Officers climbed over, under and through the trucks looking for mechanical defects and a range of paper work violations which didn't exist when I began. Equipment carried in specialized trucks ranged from weigh scales and Geiger counters to devices I couldn't even identify. Even fuel was being tested to ensure it was sourced from the proper side of the tax shelters.
"There is a new philosophy of break-down maintenance happening out there today," said Toronto Cst. Dal Gill. "That is why we started this association of truck inspectors a few years back. We all work together and check the shoulder patches at the gate. Our job is to keep truck enforcement high and road collisions low.
"It is this level of cooperation that is needed because the vehicles we stop don't recognize boundaries, just the bottom line. If they don't comply," he added with a smile, "we raise the value of that bottom line considerably."
It is good to see progress. I'm sure my old bosses would be proud.