As police, and as people, we are anthologies of the folks we meet along life’s journey — people who have somehow or another rubbed off on us and left their mark.
It’s a crack of wit or turn of phrase, borrowed from an old friend or classmate not seen in years. It’s a subtle lilt, a posture or a cadence in speech inherited from a family member. It’s a work ethic engrained from someone who made an impression at an impressionable time.
Usually the marks are obvious.
I know, for example, that I look and talk like my dad. I know my writing style is greatly influenced by people I worked with when I was a reporter. I seldom come up with a one-liner that’s even close to original. And I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog if my first partner Dan hadn’t taught me how much fun it is to be a beat cop. They are all people who knowing left an impression on me and helped mold me into the person and police officer I am today.
Sometimes the marks that brush off on us are harder to see. They are left by people who drift in, then drift out of our lives in fleeting moments, often completely unaware of the influence they’ve had.
For me, one such person was Linda Stewart. I’m sure she doesn’t know me from Adam.
Linda was a constable on the patrol squad I was sent to train with when I was a rookie cop. Now retired, she was in the twilight of her career when I joined the squad for my brief two-month stint in 2007. You would never have known she was about to retire by the way she conducted herself. Even after 20-some years on the job — almost all of them in uniform and in patrol — Linda out-hustled and out-performed people nearly half her age, doing it with unmatched enthusiasm and drive.
I decided then that I wanted to be like Linda when I grew up.
Linda was part of the Alpha squad in Vancouver’s District 3 when I was sent there. The Alpha squad doesn’t work the regular night-shift rotation, instead starting every day at 4:30 a.m.
As a recruit, it was my job to show up early, grab a radio and a car for field-trainer Paul, and to make sure I was ready to brief the squad on everything that had happened the night before. Every morning I’d show up at 3:45, and without fail every morning Linda would already be on the road, working her sources, making arrests and talking people down from bridges — literally. Linda was also one of the original members of VPD’s negotiator team.
It was customary for each recruit to spend a week riding with Linda before they were sent back to the police academy to finish up their training. As it worked out, I only got one day with her.
I think Linda taught me more in that one day about how to be a good street cop than I’ve learned in any single day since. With a pen tucked behind her ear and three radios tuned to three different channels, Linda could tell you what was happening on just about any big call between Surrey to Shaughnessy. She was always one step ahead of every other officer, and two steps ahead of the bad guy.
People said Linda started work early in the morning because she had trouble sleeping at night. I bet it had more to do with the thrill she got from being on the road. And while she seemed to work at mach-speed, what struck me most was Linda’s ability to slow things down and relate to people. She had amazing ability to talk, and to get people talking to her. In doing so, she had a knack for finding out things the police just weren’t supposed to know, and convincing people to do things they were hell-bent against.
Mostly, I loved the genuine excitement she brought to the job. It’s something you can’t fake. Take a look at the 18 second mark of the trailer posted below and see how she rubs her hands together and hammers on the gas when the big call comes in. The videos are from an upcoming Odd Squad Productions documentary about Linda Stewart’s career. I’ve watched them a dozen times, and I still get chills. If they don’t make you want to put on a uniform, nothing will.Share