Blue Line

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Living the Dream


September 21, 2011
By Tony Palermo

It’s barely 8 AM on a holiday Monday but several Ottawa Police officers in the gym at Algonquin College’s Police and Public Safety Institute have already run through videos, handcuffing drills and search techniques, part of a defensive tactics requalification course. It’s been many years since Sgt. Charles Momy has had to use these skills – at least eight, closer to 16 if you don’t include the brief six month stint on patrol in between – but he’s far from looking like a fish out of water.

The instructor demos the next drill and then signals the students to try it. “Down, down, down,” yells Momy, decibels above the others, as he seamlessly moves his partner off-balance, gains wrist and elbow control and then takes him to the ground.

“Good job Momy,” says the instructor, “And great TacComm.”

Momy smiles and it quickly becomes apparent that his enthusiasm is infectious. On subsequent drills, the other students yell their instructions just as loud. Everyone is smiling and appears to be having fun.

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Momy smiles a lot. While genuinely pleasant by nature, many have wondered what he has to smile about. After all, he just went from being the president of the Canadian Police Association back to a patrol sergeant, a change many consider a step back. It certainly comes with a considerable loss of salary, perks and status.

With only a couple of years to go before he’s eligible to retire, what motivated the 49-year-old Momy to trade a comfortable desk job with relatively normal hours for one that is much harder on the body and requires shift work?

In offering opinions, people say everything from “good on him” to “he’s nuts” (though admittedly using more colourful language.) One thing everyone agrees on is that it was a hell of a drastic change.

There were probably a dozen reasons why he made the switch back to the streets, Momy says. For starters, he missed the strong bonding and camaraderie that front-line police work provides. He originally joined the CPA in 2003 because he hated seeing how front-line officers were being treated, or as he puts it, “dicked around.” Despite the challenges, successes and perks of the union job, Momy concedes that it was lonely at the top.

Momy spent almost eight years in polygraph prior to joining the CPA and was considered one of Canada’s leading experts in interviewing, interrogation and polygraph techniques – but again, despite his successes and the thrill of eliciting a confession, it was generally a very solitary job.

Other motivators: The death of Ottawa Police Cst. Eric Czapnik (stabbed to death on Dec. 29, 2009, allegedly by RCMP Cst. Kevin Gregson; the trial was tentatively set to begin Nov. 7). Momy also enjoys being a teacher and has a lot of experience that he wants to share. The fact he’s turning 50 Jan. 6 also played a part.

Ultimately, Momy says that a big part of his decision was a desire to return to real front-line police work. “I want to be here and in uniform,” he says. “We become cops to help people and to make society a better place. It sounds corny but it’s so true.”

While some concepts remain the same, or at least similar, there’s no denying that a lot has changed since Momy was last on patrol. Laptops have replaced MDTs. New equipment and use of force options are available. There are numerous law and policy changes. Even the cruisers have more bells and whistles.

“Sure, it can be a steep learning curve,” he allows. “The new technology is a big one but I’ve found it to be really intuitive. For the rest of it, it’s just like riding a bike. You just have to get your head and focus going and then it all comes back.”

“Charles is a smart guy,” says instructor Cst. John McDonald. “He’s here with the right attitude and mindset. That’s half the battle. You don’t want to mentally defeat yourself before you’ve even started.”

{First shift}

Inside the platoon office at the Leitrim Road detachment, several camaraderie-type pictures line the walls. A picture of Erik “Ponch” Estrada of CHiPs fame hangs near a picture of an older model cruiser. Momy beams. “That was my very first patrol car. It had an AM radio and no A/C. Ah, the good ‘ol days.”

“Hey look,” says a jovial voice from across the room. “I’ve been replaced as the resident old guy.”

Momy laughs. “Oh yeah? By whom?”

Not everyone has been as friendly and welcoming. Understandably, some disagreed with decisions he made while heading the CPA but a few have taken it a step further, making it clear that even though he’s back in uniform, they still could care less for him. Tenure, the mandated rotation of personnel after a certain amount of time, remains a hot topic but one that Momy still stands behind. Acknowledging that some officers don’t like it because they’re forced to move positions, he maintains it creates an atmosphere of opportunities and is good for the organization. “If those individuals wanted a full-time job doing the same thing for 30 years, well, they should have gone to work for the federal government.”

The lessons come quick when you’re in uniform and Momy gets his first reminder of that, albeit it gently, when he tries checking his e-mail right after the evening briefing. Uppercase/lowercase, different username/password combinations, even one-fingered deliberate typing – no matter what he tries the system refuses to grant him access. Momy tries calling the IT helpdesk but seeing as it’s late in the evening, he gets no answer.

Momy stares at the screen. “There are passwords for fucking everything.”

Hearing this, Sgt. Reno Rushford, his partner for the evening and an old friend from his Gloucester Police days, comes over to help. Rushford looks over the system, then asks Momy where his e-token security key is. “You know, the thing that looks like a memory stick?”

Momy begins to systematically check all of his pockets and pouches. A few seconds later, his eyes light up and his hands stop the self-administered pat-down. He pulls out his phone, makes a quick call, hangs up and then smiles.

“Mind if we make a quick stop at my place?” he asks. Rushford laughs. “You’re like a kid who went to school and forgot his lunch. Tell me, if your kid forgot his lunch on the table, what would you do?”

“I’d bring him his lunch,” says Momy.

“Bullshit,” replies Rushford, shaking his head. “Let’s go.”

Despite the little hiccup, the rest of the shift is smooth, as are his next few shifts riding solo. Although the technology has changed and there might be a steep learning curve to get back into the groove, Momy points out that the core of police work remains the same.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “this job is all about communicating. In most circumstances, your mouth can get you out of a major bind. Things like how to talk to a parent who just lost a child or whose daughter was just sexually assaulted. How to talk to bad-asses to get information or diffuse a situation and then at the end of it, have those same people say to you ‘you’re a good shit.’ This is the stuff that they don’t teach you in college. Communicating. Listening. Knowing how to talk to people. That’s the stuff experience brings.”

BIO

Tony Palermo is correspondent for the Eastern Ontario & Western Quebec region. A freelance writer and former federal corrections officer, he welcomes all e-mails and stories of interest at tony@blueline.ca .