One year ago I stood before a bank of microphones, cameras and journalists in the lane behind the police station at 312 Main Street to announce the launch of Eastside Stories: Diary of a Vancouver Beat Cop.
In the months prior, a young woman named Ashley Machiskinic had fallen to her death from the window of a Downtown Eastside rooming house. Activists who insisted she must have been murdered had staged a sit-in at the Vancouver Police Department’s Main Street station. They engaged in a public campaign to suggest that police were doing little to investigate Ashley’s death, or to protect vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside.
Other pressure groups had long complained that police in the Downtown Eastside did little more than pick on the poor, write petty tickets and arbitrarily arrest people for minor offences.
As a member of VPD’s Beat Enforcement Team, I knew this couldn’t be further from the truth.
I had seen police officers literally pick up and dust off Listerine drunks who were passed out in snow banks, and help them out of the cold when nobody else gave a damn.
I witnessed one police officer practically save the life of a man who had been stabbed in the neck during a knife fight, covering the gash with his bare hands to stop the man from bleeding to death.
I had personally lent my shoulder to people who had no-one left in the world to cry on.
Moreover, I’d seen the personal toll all this takes on the men and women who don the police uniform in the Downtown Eastside.
I wanted to help people understand what we actually do, the pressures we face and the frustrations we endure while policing one of Canada’s toughest beats. I wanted to give people a taste of what it’s like to be a police officer in the Downtown Eastside, and to help put a human face of the people who live and work here.
During the past 12 months this blog has introduced readers to a number of characters in the Downtown Eastside. There was Whistling Bernie Smith, the old-time beat cop who walked these streets in the 1970s, long before anyone had to worry about political correctness or the Charter of Rights.
We’ve met the man with three degrees and seven languages who wanders the streets of the Downtown Eastside, having lost his family, his job and his aspirations to a heroin addiction.
Then there was my favourite, the Ice Cream Man. As far as I know, he’s still fighting the good fight. And though I’ll probably never know for sure, I’d like to think I had something to do with his decision to get clean.
There are 18,000 people in the Downtown Eastside, and each one of them has their own story of heartbreak, tragedy and success. And while I’d love to stick around long enough to tell them all, it appears my time in the Downtown Eastside is coming to an end.
The Vancouver Police Department has decided to send me to a new sand box. They say it’s time to broaden my horizons. In two weeks I will be reluctantly re-assigned to a patrol squad in District 2 — the north-east quadrant of the city.
Some of my colleagues have encouraged me to continue my dispatches from my new post. I’d love to continue writing about my experiences in the Downtown Eastside, but I simply don’t believe I can do so with the quality and frequency you deserve.
While District 2 does technically include the Downtown Eastside, I will no longer be one of the foot soldiers on the Beat Enforcement Team. Instead, I’ll be responding to calls from behind the wheel of a police car, and responsible for a larger, and more diverse area.
This blog is branded as the diary of a beat cop, and it would be wrong to suggest I am still slogging it out in the trenches when I am not.
That’s why I’ve decided that now is the time to pull the plug. It’s time to restore a little work-life balance and to focus my energy on some new endeavours.
Authoring this blog has been one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had as a police officer. I’ve felt more fulfilled writing these stories than I did in nearly a decade working as a newspaper reporter (my previous career).
I am indebted to the Vancouver Police Department for allowing me the opportunity, and for taking such a hands-off approach. I was never told what to write or how to write it, and never once chided for wading in on sensitive or controversial topics.
I am even more indebted to everyone who took the time to read, to comment and to send me their personal stories during the past year. I’ve been touched and blown away by the passionate and heart-felt responses.
It has been a privilege.