The RCMP is Canada’s national police service, whose mandate is to provide federal law enforcement to all Canadian provinces and territories. With the exception of Ontario and Quebec (who have their own provincial police) 8 provinces and three territories also contract “The Force” to offer policing service to provincial, municipal and aboriginal communities. The RCMP training academy (Depot Division) is located in Regina. I was accepted as a 3rd Class Constable to “Depot” in May 1973.
In 1973, employment in the RCMP was restricted to single men only. A rigorous recruitment criterion was used to select young males with a demonstrated work ethic and a personality suited to a para-military environment.
Our training group of 32 recruits was given the designation of Troop 5 – 73/74 and within a week of our arrival at Depot we were all working and alphabetically lodged together in an opposing rows, open concept barracks on the 2nd floor of “B” Block. My troop-mates hailed from all regions of Canada, bringing with them their local dialects, customs, culture, habits and modes of dress. Upon arrival, each recruit was given a military haircut and a drab brown uniform that was listed in the RCMP Uniform and Dress Manual as “Fatigues, Brown”; a term we were soon to discover not only reflected the clothing itself but predicted the impact of its use.
Mourning the loss of our civilian status, our cowboy boots, double knit slacks, tie-dyed shirts, faded jeans, ball caps and toques were put away into the darkest corner of our bunk-side closets. Mirroring the military custom, every time we moved anywhere, we moved in formation, at first running as we worked hard to obtain the skill and attain the coordination to actually march properly, in formation, as a troop. Then once achieving the right to march, we marched everywhere, at all times, even when alone, while on Depot property. Slowly we became one force, an entity in our expanding universe; our “Game of Clones.”
Psychologically, individuality was discouraged unless it directly benefited the troop. From the first day to the last, training was physically and mentally demanding. Two of our troop-mates left Depot within the first week of training, and at any given time for the remaining six months, members of our cadre were at risk of giving into defeat. It was only through the strength and support of the group offering hope that gave a resurgence of energy to those briefly demoralized, to carry on. Troop 5 73/74 left Depot six months later with 30 graduates.
Using a para-military training model, discipline was the anchor used to instill rule and order in every recruit’s day and overall development. Any time away from Depot had to be approved, curfews were strictly enforced, personal and barracks’ inspections were frequent and personal evaluations on physical and academic performance were constant. Individual shortfalls were disclosed publicly, and more often than not, punishment for these shortfalls was meted out to the entire troop. Depot removed all semblance of a comfort zone. Discomfort was shared. Each troop was living and learning to depend on each other, with the end goal to deliver service focused on a common law enforcement strategy; to perform individually in support of the collective. Within a short period of time, shared discomfort became comfortable.
Center to our world were our instructors. Depot instructors were active serving RCMP Members who had indicated an interest in and were selected for teaching positions. There were instructors for driving, physical education and self-defence, marching drill, firearms, swimming, and academics; each instructor had an expertise to share with the recruits who had an obligation to learn the lessons well and be ready to apply them upon graduation. Instructors were role players. Each added a personal element of their work with us to emphasize the importance of their subject. Our drill instructor was impeccable in his uniform and glass-like polished high brown boots. We were continuously held to the level of his unattainable bar. Our physical and self-defence instructors pushed us brutally toward higher goals. Our academic instructors would confine our whole troop to barracks for the weekend should one us fall asleep during a class.
For the most part, recruits understood that Depot’s raison d’etre was to prepare them for the reality and expectations of the community of the day. The lessons physically prepared us to apply our craft, while the instructors psychologically prepared us for the reactions we might expect in applying that craft in a public environment. Sensitizing us to our professional role while at the same time desensitizing us to exterior influences that could compromise that role or our response to it.
Throughout training the hierarchy was maintained, encouraged, demanded. Instructors were addressed by the rank they had earned.
“Yes Corporal! No Sergeant!”
Recruits were addressed by the surname they were born with. And the interaction was indeed subservient.
“Adams, are you going to quit on me?” (PT instructor in my face during circuit weight training)
“No Corporal.” (But I may barf all over you if this lasts any longer)
The above introduction sets the stage for my next story, “Handcuffed”.
As recruits gained some experience and knowledge, they were assigned certain tasks to perform within the physical environment of Depot. Nightly foot patrol officers checked the physical security of campus buildings while vehicle patrols ranged further afield to deter or detect any nefarious force trying to breach the training site perimeter. On my first night of duty, I and three other recruits were assigned to foot patrol duties and met with our supervisor, Cpl. Hansard, at the security office at 11:00 PM for our uniform inspection and shift assignments. Shirts ironed, boots and duty belt polished and hat brims gleaming we stood at attention while Corporal Hansard assessed whether we were spit and polished enough to take to the streets and back woods of Depot. While our duty belt was designed with specialized “pockets” to hold various tools for effective law enforcement; revolver, handcuffs, 6 bullets and a flashlight holder, all were empty on our arrival at the office. At this juncture in our training we were neither qualified nor trusted to either detain or shoot any transgressor we happened across while “on patrol”.
Content that we looked good and could do no harm, Cpl. Hansard handed out our first patrol assignments.
“Smith and Woods, I want you to walk around the parade square, check the forensics lab, the drill hall and the parking lots. Take a radio to keep in touch and don’t come back until 12:30 AM. Do you understand?”
“Yes Corporal”, they spoke in unison, then out the door they flew!
“Jenkins, I want you to stay at the front desk here and sign in anyone coming back from off base. If anyone is late, I want their names and their excuse for being late so that I can report that to the Sergeant Major in the morning. Do you understand?”
While the front desk was within sight of Corporal Hansard, his plan was to spend his shift at a back desk unless and until he was required to interact with anyone. In that the area was restricted to any public visitors after 11:00 PM, his goal was to not be bothered at all. It was up to the front desk to ensure that Cpl. Hansard had a worry free night without interruption while he prepared lesson plans for the next day and/or read the local Regina newspaper.
“Adams, you can help Jenkins but around midnight, I want you to go to the cafeteria. Go into the kitchen, to the walk-in fridge. Go inside and there will be a basket with our lunch in it. Bring it back here for 12:30 and we’ll have lunch when Smith and Woods get back. Do you understand?”
“Yes Corporal” is what I said but I was thinking ….. You want me to deliver take-out????
So started my working career in the RCMP.
I did get the lunch and when Jenkins and I switched with Smith and Woods we all ate. We then patrolled the parade square, check the forensics lab, the drill hall and the parking lots. All we saw were rabbits, lots of rabbits. Rabbits were very safe at Depot; recruits were the only small animals threatened by predators.
Back in the security office at 2:30 AM, Jenkins and I sat down to a hot coffee and some leftover lunch. Our first duty shift had been pretty boring, and the rest of the night didn’t promise any respite. Jenkins sat back to read the discarded newspaper. I went snooping around the security office, to see and possibly learn something, but mostly just to snoop!
The front counter was about six feet wide and had three narrow drawers across its width and three deep drawers down its right hand side. The center part of the counter was closed off but in an area below was a storage area, which seemed to have been filled over time with numerous odds and ends that hadn’t been used in quite some time but were too “valuable” to be discarded. Rummaging through the drawers I found old forms and sign-in sheets that were used to track the departure and return of recruits. Assorted door keys and flashlight parts, tools and stationery supplies and a boot polishing kit were scattered through the rest. It was obvious that with the transient nature of the security room inhabitants, no one had taken any historical responsibility to organize or de-clutter the area. My treasure find came when I opened the center drawer on the right hand side of the counter. There was a wooden box, scarred and worn from use and misuse, with a flip top lid and a brass clasp. I opened the box. Inside was two pair of stainless steel handcuffs.
We had been in training for over a month, and although our duty belt had a place for handcuffs, none had yet been issued, and I had never seen a real pair this close before. I took them out of the box. Turning them in my hands I could now see the ingenuity of their design. Two metal bracelets (cuffs) joined by a swivel chain, that when locked around a person’s wrists, would keep the arms secured and yet still allow some flexibility so as to avoid harm or damage to the person. Each “cuff” had several working parts. I could see that one half of the cuff was divided into two strands containing a ratchet and the other cuff was one strand notched with “teeth”. Joined by a movable joint, the single strand swivelled into the double strand and, as it progressed, the teeth caught into the mechanism and tightened the cuffs to the diameter of the prisoner’s wrists. Loose, the single strand could actually swivel all the way through the double strand and come back to the front again. Perpetual motion barring any obstruction. Amazing!
And that’s what I repeated several times. I pushed the single strand in a circle through the double strand. Of course it made a cool sound as the teeth ratcheted through the double strand locking mechanism. This also caused me to understand the idiom, “slapping the cuffs on” that I had seen in the movies. By slapping the single strand against the wrist, it would swivel through the double strand, coming back around the wrist to engage again with the double strand. Ingenious!
Now, having figured out the mechanics, I proceeded to tentatively test the theoretical process and found that indeed the theory was sound. Encouraged, I slapped the single strand against my wrist, the strand released, turned it’s circle and entered into the double strand, locking.
Of course, before attempting this experiment, I was confident that I would be able to slip out of the cuff. I had intended to only do it a little bit, but the pressure I exerted on that first slap engaged the cuff more than I had estimated. My wrist was locked into the handcuff.
Looking behind me to the rear of the office, Corporal Hansard was sitting back in his chair with his feet up on the desk, reading some type of magazine. My colleague Jenkins was not to be seen. I was safe from detection. I went to the wooden box looking for a key. No key!
For the next 5 minutes I searched every drawer and all the cabinet clutter looking for a key. While I had never seen a handcuff key before, by the keyhole size I knew it was small, and after a period of searching I knew it was missing. Trying to make my hand as small as possible, I tried several more times to slip it from the closed cuff’s clutch.
“Ah, Corporal, I have a problem.”
Without dropping his magazine, Corporal Hansard responded,
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m locked up.”
Adjusting the magazine to look over its top, our eyes met. There must have been something readable in my face, for a trace of concern was quickly evident in Corporal Hansard’s persona. Reacting, he dropped his magazine more, leaned forward and removed his feet from the desk. In that movement, he observed the stainless steel handcuffs dangling from my rubbed red and raw wrist.
“Adams, you’re an idiot.”
During the next few moments I attempted to describe the reasoning and rationale for my predicament, but the more I talked, the more lame my attempt to explain became. Corporal Hansard meanwhile, was looking bewildered and likely lamenting the future of the RCMP with me as a working member in it.
“Where did you find those, Adams?”
“They were in a box in the drawer Corporal.”
“So where’s the key?”
Sheepishly I whispered, “I’ve looked, there’s nothing there.”
Corporal Hansard stood, and passing me with a scornful look, walked to the counter. Through the next 5 minutes, he searched for the illusive key, without success.
Passing me again, Corporal Hansard took one final opportunity to ensure that I understood the real reason for my dilemma,
“Adams, you’re an idiot. You understand that right?”
“Sit down over there and don’t touch anything.”
Recalling this story in 2016, I am thankful for the simplicity of 1973. Thankfully, there was no internet blog that Corporal Hansard could use to relate this story to the world or cell phone camera picture that could be texted to the rest of my troop-mates. There was no YouTube that could immortalize me, in uniform and handcuffs, cemented in time, for all the world to see and no shared Twitter to send to 5000 of Corporal Hansard’s faithful followers. The only person he could think to tell was his wife, so he called her. She arrived at the security office about a half-hour later, with his handcuff key and a smile on her face. She unlocked my handcuff and handed the cuffs to her husband.
Holding the handcuffs in his hand, Corporal Hansard seemed to be trying to weigh the merit of some added consequence to my behaviour, but as he moved the handcuffs up and down I could sense he felt that I had suffered enough. He just looked at me with a measure of disbelief and stated,
“You’d better find yourself a sympathetic wife Adams, ‘cause I think you’re going to need someone in this world that will love you unconditionally.”
It was then and there that I learned a lesson about life in the RCMP and developed a habit that today, even in retirement; I latched onto on that first evening shift. The lesson was the importance of a spouse in my life that can be called at 4 AM to help resolve a problem with sympathetic understanding. I can attest to the fact that your Mother has been that go-to source on many occasions and for many reasons through my RCMP career, to this very day. The habit? When issued my handcuffs and two keys upon arrival at my first detachment, I have since carried one handcuff key on my personal ring of keys.
And on that night in 1973, I also learned from Corporal Hansard the deeper meaning of being a Member of The Force and the broader understanding of belonging to the RCMP extended family. As regimented as he was in general and as insulting as he was on that particular night, Corporal Hansard brought life to the term and epitomized the meaning of “esprit de corps”. And while throughout my service, Members of the Force were quick to take advantage of opportunities to make fun of or ridicule innocent misbehaviour within their ranks, in time of need they would rally in support of any Member in need.