Ethics and Vagrants
By Morley Lymburner
By Morley Lymburner
The beat cop was once truly ’empowered’ to take control of the streets. I clearly remember my first patrol sergeant making it clear that if anything went wrong on my beat I would be blamed for it. Not that it was my fault. I would just be the fall guy. The last thing a young officer needed was to be blamed for something going wrong.
This mindset once lead me astray when I met “Old Charlie” (not his real name), a ‘sweet’ drunk. I never did find out where he lived. He was more of an apparition than a person, seeming to appear out of nowhere, and always drunk.
Occasionally I would find Charlie sleeping in a store doorway on my beat late at night. If I could rouse him I would tell him to move along and find another place to sleep – but I made sure he appeared to at least be dressed to the weather, capable of walking and able to communicate. Any doubt and I’d take him in for his own protection under the now much maligned vagrancy laws.
One big rule was impressed upon me about Charlie. You don’t take him in to the station house unless he obviously needs care. The simple reason was his lack of bladder and bowel control when extremely intoxicated – and believe me – nothing dead less than 10 days under a noon day sun smelled worse.
One day a citizen told me a snow bank the next street over was breathing. I investigated and found Charlie under a pile of freshly fallen snow by the curb. A snow plow must have passed by and completely covered him.
I could see a plume of steam rising from one end of the pile which I assumed, at my peril, was the talking end. Several attempts to rouse him were unsuccessful. Closer inspection revealed he was not only drunk but also at his highest level of ripeness.
I went to a store to use the phone (what, no radio!) to call for a patrol car. It was unfortunate but the station house was going to smell ‘sweet’ tonight.
There was two ethics in those days even stronger than the smell of old Charlie. “No one dies on my beat” and “no one aggravates the station sergeant.” What a dilemma!
The patrol car arrived and the officer looked at Charlie in dismay. Even he had to admit the first ethic took precedence but what could we do about the second one?
We mulled it over a little and came up with a wonderful solution. Let’s just get him off our beat. This had been done before and the usual method was to dump the drunk near another police station – but everyone knew Charlie was from my beat. Just like many creatures great and small, drunks are very territorial.
YESSS! A great plan, which was once just a vague whimsey, now began taking form. “Let’s take him to a station right out of the city.” There was this brand new police station just north of the city with pristine cells that we were sure needed initiation. Who better to do so than good ole’ Charlie?
Now this great adventure was fraught with risk. Could we survive the ‘eau de Charlie’ aroma long enough to get him out of the city? Avoid the cruising menace of the patrol sergeant? Avoid being spotted by the locals while doing our ‘dirty business’ in an out-of-town, bright yellow patrol car?
With extreme delicacy we loaded Charlie into the car on his belly, rolled down all the windows and turned the heater and fan on high. Our adventure was just beginning.
As we raced north with our precious cargo we chuckled and gloated about Charlie’s introduction to the gleaming new police station. The few citizens on the streets at 2 AM must have been wondered why two officers were sticking their heads out the window as they sped northward.
We finally arrived in the area of the new station and slowly drove around the block looking for a discreet spot to dump Charlie. Turning a corner we were startled to notice Charlie beginning to sit up. My partner quickly stopped him.
“Okay Charlie! We don’t want to burst the bubble now, do we?” he asked, referring to the cargo that he was, no doubt, carrying in his drawers. We gingerly extracted him from the back seat, pleased to see that the drive and fresh air had revived Charlie to consciousness. With the wobbly legs of a new born calf Charlie was directed, and then began walking toward, the new police station.
Victorious, we pointed our police car southward. In today’s vernacular we would have “high fived.”
In our jubilance and self congratulation, we overlooked a serious flaw in our seemingly well thought out plan. Our two-door slant six equipped Plymouth had never seen speeds in excess of 50 km/h in its three years of 24/7 operation. It was nowhere near a match for the high-powered 440s the northern police force had in its shiny new fleet.
We were underway no more than five minutes when we saw headlights approaching from behind at a speed that almost seemed cartoon-like. The car pulled up alongside and we both felt a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs.
The gleaming police car was complete with brand new roof lights, electronic siren, two grinning police officers and – good ol’ Charlie sitting in the back seat, wide-eyed and also grinning back at us. Just because a police force is brand new doesn’t mean the coppers are.
“Nice of you boys to come visit us,” one officer shouted out the window. “Next time stay for coffee!” With a friendly smile and wave, the roof lights lit up, the siren began to wail and they sped away like a rocket.
We immediately realized their plan – returning the ‘favour’ by dropping Charlie off near our station. We had to keep up so we could see where they would dump him. My partner floored the pedal but the anemic 225 just shook, sputtered and coughed. Our chances of catching up were about the same as Charlie voting for prohibition.
Five minutes later we saw the northern police car heading home. It decelerated to re-entry speed and the grinning officers saluted and blinked their roof lights as they sailed triumphantly passed and resumed warp speed toward their still gleaming new station.
Almost simultaneously the dispatcher informed us of a drunk wandering around the intersection near our police station. We were resigned to our fate. The station sergeant might be a little grumpy at us bringing in a smelly drunk but mercifully he wouldn’t know the whole story.
We picked up Charlie on the street comer holding up a sign post and waving like a flag in the wind. The station sergeant was not impressed.
“I can’t figure you new guys out,” he bellowed. “Back in my day we knew what to do with drunks this smelly. We’d dump them off near another police station.”
The glint in his eye and ever so slightly turned up edges of his mouth told us he probably knew more – but we dared not ask.