Election Promises Part II – Foot Patrols

Foot Patrol in the 1970’s and early 1980’s

Up until the early 1980’s the Winnipeg Police Service had 18 or so areas of the city that were designated as ‘beats’. These beats consisted primarily of major streets in the commercial areas of the city.  Beat officers were assigned to patrol these beats, on foot.

Beats 1 and 2, as an example, covered Main Street from James Avenue to Higgins Avenue.  Beats 3 and 4 covered Main Street from Market Avenue to Mayfair Avenue and beats 5 and 6 covered Portage Avenue from Main Street to Sherbrook Street.  Other designated beats included north Main Street from Sutherland Avenue to Inkster Boulevard, Selkirk Avenue, Logan Avenue, Ellice Avenue, Sargent Avenue and portions of Corydon Avenue.

Beats were described in a ‘beat book’ which laid out the geographical area of the beats and included comments in terms of specific duties that officers assigned to that beat were required to perform as well as ‘special attentions’ (an early version of a ‘hotspot’).  Beat 4, as an example, required the assigned officer to perform traffic duty at the intersection of Mayfair Avenue and Main Street between 4:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon to facilitate the smooth egress of traffic from the downtown area.

The highest priority beats were beats 1 and 2 – the Main Street  ‘drag’ as it was referred to.

Beat patrol was primarily a duty assigned to raw rookies or more senior constables who were being punished for some real or imagined transgression.  I recall one officer, who was senior to me, walking the beat without a gun.  The problem was that he could not pass the required spelling test.  He was, however, an excellent shot with a hand gun and had earned ‘crossed revolvers’ during training.  So he walked the beat with the little applicate of crossed revolvers stitched to the sleeve of his tunic, but no gun.  He could not be assigned to a patrol unit because policy dictated that officers assigned to a car had to carry a gun.  When we patrolled the beat together the standing joke was that if we got involved in a serious situation that required gun play, I would toss him my gun, he would do the shooting  and I would write the required reports.  Although not as good a shot, I was issued with a gun because I could spell.

Another very senior constable, close to retirement, normally walked the beat in the Fort Rouge area.  He quite frequently missed his hourly calls and at times after being ‘missing’ for most of his shift, other beat officers were assigned to go search for him.  He was usually located at one of his favorite haunts on Corydon Avenue, generally two or three ‘sheets to the wind’.

Beat duty was fairly basic: Walk the assigned beat.  During day light hours.  Be visible.  Respond to any citizen enquiries on your designated beat.  Do occasional traffic duty during rush hour periods and hand out the odd parking tag and ‘mover’.

Movers were moving violations, breaches of the Highway Traffic Act such as running a red light or having faulty equipment on a vehicle such as a burned out head or tail light.  During hours of darkness, beat constables would ‘skulk’ around and do property checks. They were to be familiar with the call box locations on their beat, call in every hour, and to watch for the flashing lights mounted on top of the call boxes which indicated they were needed for a specific duty on their beat.

If a beat officer encountered a drunk individual the officer was expected to call for the paddy wagon or a patrol car to assist in transporting the drunk to the drunk tank.  Back in the seventies that actually meant a  drunk tank on the 4th floor at the Public Safety Building.

As a rule, beat officers patrolled by themselves and were not normally dispatched to calls for service. Those assigned to Beats 1 and 2, however, were assigned in pairs to walk Main Street – two officers on the east side of the street and two officers on the west side. Beats 1 and 2 were part of the notorious Main Street strip (the drag) that was home to a large number of hotels like the McLaren (which still exists), the Brunswick, the National, the Occidental, the Patricia and the Mount Royal. Officers assigned to these two beats saw a lot of action in the form of alcohol fuelled disputes, thefts, robberies and assaults.

The biggest ‘sin’ a beat officer could commit (well actually there were several), was to not call in every hour as required, to miss a flashing light, or to not be available for an ‘officer’s visit’.  An officer’s visit was a visit from the Patrol Sergeant whose job it was to roam the streets (in a car) and check on the well-being of beat officers as well as to ensure they were on their designated beats.  And lastly, and in the eyes of some Patrol Sergeants, the most important thing was that the beat officer was to never leave his or her assigned beat area.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s being assigned to beat patrol put you at the very bottom of the pecking order. Beat patrol was a rite of passage, something you needed to work your way through before you were assigned to a ‘cruiser car’.

Because beat officers lacked mobility and were considered ‘non dispatchable resources’, it does not come as a big surprise that as the volume of calls for service grew, beat officers were removed from the beat and assigned to cars. Once assigned to cars they became dispatchable resources.

The next post will look at the advent of community policing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the move to return officers to the beat.

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