The Sault’s Dave Lawrence has retired for the second time, putting in his last shift as a Special Constable at the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse Friday.
He worked as a Special for 22 years, a Sault Police constable for 28 years prior to that.
Lawrence, a 73-year-old married father and grandfather, sat down with SooToday Friday, prior to celebrating at a goodbye party with his workmates, sharing memories of his early days as a police officer and providing an interesting glimpse into how police work has changed over the years.
Lawrence was born and raised in the Sault before moving with his family at the age of 15 to Quebec, where his father took a job as a railroad engineer.
He worked as a surveyor for a time in Quebec before returning to the Sault in the mid-1960s.
Lawrence became a constable with the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service in September 1967, having been interviewed by the Sault’s police chief earlier that year.
Lawrence recalled the Sault Police Service’s former headquarters was located in a much smaller building which still stands behind the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse, facing Albert Street.
“That was a long time ago. When I first got assigned there, I was hired with other officers at approximately the same time, and we were shown ‘the beat,’” Lawrence said.
The beat for officers on foot patrol in those days ran from Church Street to Queen, Gore and Wellington Streets, close to the underpass.
“It was divided up into five sections, and you walked them days, afternoon or night shifts, by yourself. You walked the beat and talked to the owners of the stores and anybody on the street (in all types of weather), and you had to do that for two years.”
Lawrence, with a smile and good humour, looked back on what could be considered ‘primitive’ operating conditions for officers on patrol back in the 1960s.
“In winter, you had a pea jacket but you couldn’t put the collar up, and you weren’t allowed to wear ear muffs, you couldn’t wear mitts but you could, maybe, wear some gloves. If it was really cold, you’d try and find a warm place, like a hotel lobby or a storefront,” he chuckled.
Police officers on the beat didn’t have radios.
“If something went awry or you saw the need to get some more police officers, you had to find some place to get a phone. So, you were always conscious of where you could go. That was for your own safety,” Lawrence said, grateful for the day beat cops received radios.
From walking the beat, Lawrence began driving what was called a ‘property car,’ checking properties on Queen Street and other places throughout the city while working day and night shifts, sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner.
“After that, you got to be able to operate a radar car, go and set up at places, stopping people who were speeding or running red lights, giving tickets...then I got a bit of seniority, enough to ride around with a senior officer in a patrol car. Everything was done out of that little old police station,” Lawrence said.
“Our patrol cars we had were different colours, a blue cruiser with a flashing light on top, a grey one, a brown one, and they were just ordinary sedans. There were no cages in the back of them, so if you arrested somebody, the junior partner would be in the back seat with the prisoner as we were taking them in to go the cells.”
“That was interesting,” he laughed.
Lawrence said he found the new Sault Police Services building "a lot nicer, more suitable.”
“Our lunch room, our change room and write up room was all in the same room at the old station. There just wasn’t any room for us,” he chuckled.
Eventually, Lawrence was offered the opportunity to work in the identification section, now called forensics.
After being trained in forensics at the Ontario Police College (OPC) in Aylmer, Ontario for three months, Lawrence worked in that sphere of police work for eight years before transferring to community relations, visiting local service clubs and schools.
He later went back on patrol and trained junior officers, retiring from the Sault Police as a First Class Constable in 1995.
“When you retire, it’s ‘hmmm, I’m not so busy,’” Lawrence said.
Two years passed, then Lawrence received a phone call informing him of the need for Special Constables to work for Sault Police at the Courthouse.
Lawrence was sworn in as a Special Constable along with Bill Currie, his one time Sault Police partner, in 1997.
Special Constables currently transport individuals from the Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre or the Police Service building cells to court and back, sit with them in the courtroom during legal proceedings to ensure they follow the rules of the court, and ensure security at the courthouse. Specials do not carry guns, but are equipped with batons, pepper spray and handcuffs.
“We make sure the peace is kept here at the Courthouse, and sometimes people are asked to leave. There have been occasions when I’ve had to remove people from the Courthouse. There are video cameras. We keep a pretty good lid on the place,” Lawrence said.
Reflecting once again as to how police work and times in general have changed, he said “when I first started in a car, if you saw somebody out at three o’clock in the morning you wanted to know why. That probably stopped a break and enter, vandalism, or arson, who knows some of the things we probably stopped. These days, you go out any time of night, they’re going to coffee shops, corner stores...that’s probably one of the biggest changes I’ve seen.”
“A lot of people who were out on the streets at that time (later in Lawrence’s career) gave us a lot of information. We got to know a lot of people. People say ‘why are cops always in the coffee shop?’ Well, you know what, when you’re in a coffee shop you’re talking to somebody. You’re getting information. That was part of the job.”
“It was stressful at times. You had to go to autopsies, maybe it was somebody you knew, you went to an arson scene...emotions run high when you’re a police officer. (But) I’m happy with my work,” Lawrence said.
Stress notwithstanding, he said he would still recommend a career in law enforcement for young adults who feel called to do so.
Now retired again, Lawrence became visibly moved, saying “it (law enforcement) has been a big part of my life for so many years. You make friends in this work, friends for life.”
However, Lawrence may not be quite ready to retire from the workforce altogether, stating only he has been approached with an offer to work, probably part-time, for a local business.
“I’m pondering it,” he smiled.