What old style justice was really like
By Morley Lymburner
"Anyone doing real police work can't always follow the Marquis of Queensbury rules," a long retired officer once told me. "Every officer, now and again, has to step around the official rules of engagement or the job would never get done." Out of respect, acknowledging what was said more than in agreement, I nodded my head.
This reminded me of my early years walking the beat and getting to know everyone who lived and worked there. The barber shop owner, bank manager, waitresses at the corner coffee shop, real estate salesmen and bartender at the tavern were important people to me. They kept me abreast of what was going on and, if push came to shove, I was confident they would help me in any way they could. I soon discovered even the old copper who once walked my beat indirectly helped me... but it proved to be a double edged sword.
By Morley Lymburner
“Anyone doing real police work can’t always follow the Marquis of Queensbury rules,” a long retired officer once told me. “Every officer, now and again, has to step around the official rules of engagement or the job would never get done.” Out of respect, acknowledging what was said more than in agreement, I nodded my head.
This reminded me of my early years walking the beat and getting to know everyone who lived and worked there. The barber shop owner, bank manager, waitresses at the corner coffee shop, real estate salesmen and bartender at the tavern were important people to me. They kept me abreast of what was going on and, if push came to shove, I was confident they would help me in any way they could. I soon discovered even the old copper who once walked my beat indirectly helped me… but it proved to be a double edged sword.
I made a habit of standing in a certain blind alley because it was particularly sheltered from the street lights. With my dark navy uniform, my presence was known only to myself as I stood patiently watching the storefronts and sidewalks of my beat. Through the hustle, bustle and quiet times on that street, I was confident that nothing went unseen by myself or my ‘deputies’ living and working in every building.
One evening, just around midnight, I heard the sound of breaking glass at a local car dealership. It was only about 50 metres to the north of my alley position and I briskly walked toward the sound. I had learned never to run; running sounds are louder and running feet tend to rush into danger with no strategic plan of attack or defence.
I rounded the corner to see a well known local hood rummaging through a new Lincoln, frantically trying to remove the radio as quickly as possible. Catching him completely by surprise, I touched his shoulder and he jumped so hard he hit his head on the door sill. He yelled in pain and shouted at me not to hit him again. He was shaking uncontrollably with fear and holding tightly onto his head.
A larger man than myself, his face was scarred and bent, making it clear he had seen the wrong end of something hard on many occasions. I watched this quivering hulk cover his face from anticipated blows and thought about the kind of copper who had preceded me. This street-wise tough had the experience and common sense to promptly obey my orders, placing his hands correctly for my awaiting handcuffs.
I stood him up and was then surprised by a man, who had been cowering on the other side of the car. He bolted away at blazing speed to the edge of the parking lot. As I contemplated my next move he surprised me by jumping over the edge, crashing down into a gravel and stone river bank. I heard him scream out in pain as his left leg snapped. He completed his tangled fall by tumbling to a stop, writhing in pain, by the river’s edge. I was stunned at the way these two men had reacted to my presence.
I walked the prisoner in hand to a phone booth across the street, calling for a scout car to take him in and another to search for the poor soul screaming in pain by the river bank.
I noticed as I arrived at the station that my prisoner had a nasty cut on the top of his head; the blood was not quite noticeable under the dim streetlights. I paraded him in front of the sergeant, who looked at the wounded man, smiled and said “A fine piece of police work, constable.” I explained the injury was caused when the prisoner struck the door jam after I surprised him but the grizzled sergeant simply smiled. “That’s a good one son. I hear you dispatched his brother down the river bank. It looks like my old beat will be well taken care of.”
There was a transition taking place when I joined the force; although a good dust-up was still required on occasion, most of the time the back-alley justice of catching a miscreant and rapping him in the mouth instead of arresting him was disappearing.
My apprehending these individuals was made a lot easier by that old sergeant who walked my beat before me, but a grudging fear and hate that yearned for reprisal was the price paid in the balance. Several years later these boys would get their revenge by killing a cop as he pleaded for his life.
We can all take pride in the officers of today and yesteryear. Both do, and did, their jobs as best they could given the circumstances society permitted them. Stepping around rules, however, can lead to a lot of unintended aggravations. Rapping a person in the mouth to teach them a lesson only teaches the wrong lesson.
A law breaker has to understand that when they break the law, they do so alone. The ultimate goal is to never give them the satisfaction of seeing an officer reduced to their level. Given the frailties of the human spirit, it can at times be a tall order, but one that is demanded if we are to maintain the society we enjoy and crave.