November 11, 2011
It’s Wednesday, 7:00 AM and the sergeant calls the team in for a meeting. “We have a new lead on Jamal, but we need to move in quickly.” Jamal was a name that I recognized; we have been trying to locate him for weeks with little success. He was wanted on an immigration warrant for removal from Canada for serious criminal offences committed here in Canada. “We have Intel that he is armed and dangerous, and is only visiting his ‘baby mom’ over the next two days,” the sergeant states. “And once we have visual, we’ll get a warrant to gain access to the apartment and arrest him.” The sergeant went on to explain that Jamal is six feet tall, two-hundred and thirty pounds, and has a lengthy criminal record, including drugs and weapons charges—we should be vigilant.
It’s Tuesday, 3:00 PM, I’ve locked my guns and handcuffs away for the day and I’ve removed by soft body armor and replaced it with a T-shirt that says “COACH” across the back. I was on my way to the Running and Reading Club at a middle school in Thistle Town, a tough neighbourhood in Toronto. Every Tuesday during the school year, I have the privilege of mentoring kids on how to achieve their goals through fitness and literacy. Our hope is to shorten the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. It’s a duty I feel just as strongly about as being a member of the RCMP. The kids have come to know me as “Coach April” and do not know that I am a police officer. The police/community relations are not at its best in Thistle town, and I prefer the kids know me as Coach April and not “Police Officer April”.
Wednesday, 8:03AM, and I’m sitting in my van in the apartment parking lot of our target. I see kids exiting the building by the dozen, some with parents, some without, and some with backpacks and lunch bags, some without. I think to myself, “No way would I let my child walk to and from school alone.” Just last week there was a shooting in the community centre next to the school and a CRIPS versus BLOOD gang war was raging. As kids filed past my van, I slumped low in my seat and gave a silent prayer that the kids would not see me. We were working uncomfortably close to my Running and Reading school.
Tuesday, 4:08 PM: “Coach April, can you help me tie my shoes?” asked Benjamin. “Sure little buddy, then you can show me how fast you can run.” I bent over and tied-up his shoes. Benjamin’s shoes appeared far too big for his feet, and were well worn, with the soles beginning to peel off at the ends, but Benjamin seemed to float effortlessly across the gym floor with them securely tied on.
Wednesday, 8:18 AM: we’re lined up outside the apartment door, weapons drawn, and ready to make our entry. We believed Jamal was inside along with his “baby mom” and whoever else may be inside the apartment. We had been watching the apartment since our early arrival and there seemed to be no movement inside and nobody had come or gone. We approach quietly, I could hear my heart pounding, and I could hear the quiet breathes of a teammate behind me. A teammate approaches the front of the door carrying the fifty pound metal door ram (what we affectionately call the “Master Key to the City”). Our Master Key was poised and ready for use.
Back to Tuesday, 4:36 PM: “When you’re waiting for something good to happen to you.” That was the definition of “hope” given to us by one of our R&R kids. Each week we introduce a new character building word; you see, the Running and Reading Club is not just about running and reading. We also provide a social-development-rich environment so that when things get tough for kids, they have an arsenal of character attributes to draw from for personal protection and resilience.
Back to Wednesday, 8:23 AM: Like slow motion, I see the door ram swing like a giant wrecking ball on a crane, the door shakes, the door frame cracks, and the deadbolt lock ricochets into the air. POLICE!” The silence broken, I no longer heard the pounding of my heart or the breathing. We all made our presence known, and once inside the apartment we quickly realize that there are more people inside than our initial projections.
Tuesday, 4:42 PM: I’m reading from the book, Terry Fox, A Story of Hope. Sixty kids who have run out of energy are sitting quietly, hanging on every word I read. Sixty pairs of eyes and ears were looking to hear about “hope” from Coach April.
Wednesday, 8:24 AM: We know who Jamal is and what threat he poses, but we don’t know who the other three adults in the apartment are. Immediately the need to secure everyone is paramount to our safety. Unfortunately the individuals inside the apartment don’t understand that need and the fight is on.
Tuesday, 4:44 PM: “Coach April, how come Terry never gave up?” A little voice from the back of the room enquires.
“Because Terry was very brave,” I respond.
Wednesday, 8:25 AM: I’ve wrestled Jamal to the ground and a teammate is positioned to put the handcuffs on him when I get a tap on the shoulder. I can hear my heart pounding, I can hear the breathing and in slow motion, I turn not knowing the threat, ready to strike, and it is like I’m hit! A feeling of nausea fills my being; I shake my head as if the blinding would go away.
Tuesday, 4:58 PM: Cleanup is done and we’re preparing to send the kids on their way home. “Remember to practice hope this week and be brave like Terry, because sometimes hope is found in the brave things we do.” The kids, tired from the hour of running, their minds filled with a story, and hearts filled with hope, exit in a mad rush.
Wednesday 8:27 AM: “Coach April”… I’m hit again, blind-sided, not with a fist or some inanimate object, but with a set of big brown eyes, filled with hope. I jump up and grab Benjamin to remove him from the living room, hoping to protect him from seeing what is about to happen to his father, Jamal.
Thursday 7:30 AM, in the office boardroom, I’m quiet in the debriefing of yesterday’s arrest of Jamal. Gripped with the sorrow I feel for Benjamin, I don’t have the energy to add to the conversation. Distracted, I sit silently with the hope that Benjamin understood that on Tuesday I’m “Coach April” and Wednesday I was “Police Officer April” and on both days, I’m just trying to provide hope.
Be brave Benjamin, be brave!
This is an excerpt from RED COAT DIARIES - over 30 real, behind-the-scenes stories from RCMP officers in action across Canada. RED COAT DIARIES is edited by RCMP Constable Aaron Sheedy. Mosaic Press, Oakville, Ontario. Available directly: www. mosaic-press.com
Constable April Dequanne with some of the Running and Reading Club kids from Toronto.