In the spring of 2017, Kaitlin Morin and Lindsey Eaton, having worn the light blue shirts Special Constables use, went off to Ontario Police College (OPC) in Aylmer, Ontario for a gruelling 13-weeks of training in preparation for a career in policing.
After graduating from OPC and being sworn in as Sault Ste. Marie Police Service officers in August, the two now proudly wear the dark blue shirts regular Constables wear on duty.
The two are loving their jobs.
“You go to OPC and learn a lot, but nothing can really prepare you for what you experience here. You learn every single day. I’ve been told by multiple officers here you don’t truly feel comfortable on the road for four or five years, but it’s awesome, I love it,” Morin said.
“I helped find a lost little girl who had autism, she didn’t speak, and she took off into the bush from school,” Eaton said.
“What was really rewarding for me was a call with a little boy who was very upset and distraught and I was able to have a conversation with him.”
Eaton linked the boy up with community resources which were able to help him.
She followed up with him later and found out, through those resources, the boy had taken some of her advice on activities to do, such as drawing and colouring, to help him relax when upset.
“I think on an overall basis, you deal with people who have had their own negative opinion toward police officers before they’ve ever dealt with them, and they’ll tell you that, but then they tell you how much they appreciate and respect the way I’ve treated them, and they’ve told my coach officers that as well,” Morin said.
“I’ve had that happen a couple of times, and I think that’s a great feeling,” Morin said.
The two officers are Sault natives, Morin a St. Mary’s College graduate, while Eaton attended Mount St. Joseph College and St. Basil’s Secondary.
“I’m the first one in my family (to take up a career in law enforcement),” Eaton said, while Morin recalled “my Mom was a corrections officer so that, I think, is something that inspired me.”
Morin completed an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice, then a Masters in Forensic Psychology, with a career in policing in mind.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Morin, who earned scholarships to study in Arkansas and Louisiana.
“Even before I went away to university, I knew I wanted to become a police officer,” Morin said.
“When I was younger, I did ride alongs with Sgt. Monique Baker (of the Sault OPP),” Eaton said.
“That’s why I wanted to be an officer. I would go in the cruiser with her and we would ride up and down the highway to Searchmont, checking plates and learn the whole process and go to the OPP station, so I always wanted to do policing,” said Eaton, who studied at Sault College, then at Lake Superior State University (LSSU), where she did her Bachelors of Science in Criminology.
Eaton became a Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Special Constable in May 2016 and served as a special for one year before going off to OPC in preparation for service as a regular Constable in May of this year.
Morin made separate applications to the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, for Special Constable and regular Constable, in January, was hired as a Special at the end of March, then three weeks later she too was off to OPC.
“The timing was right for me. They needed people, and they are hiring from the special constable pool.”
Special Constables 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.
“For me, I wasn’t scared (escorting prisoners for the first time) but I’m also not naive to the type of people that are going to be in and out of the courthouse, or as a police officer, the type of people you’re going to be dealing with on a daily basis,” Morin said.
The two travelled together to OPC in Aylmer in May.
“We were really excited,” Morin said.
Eaton and Morin were divided into separate groups among the intake of 250 students at OPC, and saw each other on weekends.
“I made some really good friends in my class and I still keep in touch with them. If I hadn’t had those new friends in my class, for sure it would’ve been a lot harder,” Morin said.
“For me, I had been out of school for a couple of years, so it was getting back into a routine of studying and doing tests and being exhausted from learning, but once you get into your rhythm and start making friends, you get really close to everyone and you help each other out,” Eaton said.
Students at OPC live in ‘pods,’ two storey buildings with 10 students in them, with a common living area where they study together.
“The teachers were really good and we had a liaison down there (Sgt. Dave Sguigna, a Sault Police Service officer who teaches at OPC) and he was very helpful if you were stressed,” Eaton said.
“We came home a lot,” Morin said.
The two would drive from Aylmer Friday afternoon, spend a day with their families in the Sault, and drive back to OPC on Sunday.
“People from southern Ontario thought we were crazy driving six and a half hours to come home for a weekend, but it helped us get away from the stress. It’s a lot. They’re long days, physically and mentally,” Morin said.
Physical testing throughout the whole process was second nature for Morin, who enjoys soccer, whereas Eaton said “it was a mind game for me.”
“There were so many times I could do the fitness test at home but when I came for the actual testing, I was thinking ‘I’m too tired to finish,’ so it was a mind game for me and I succeeded.”
Part of their overall training as police officers involved being tasered.
“The Taser was three seconds of the most excruciating pain for me, but right after that you’re fine. You feel it in every single muscle in your body,” Eaton said, though both officers can smile about it now.
“There was a lot of in class stuff, but a lot of practical things as well. In class, there were federal and provincial statutes to learn, the Highway Traffic Act, they’re the main ones, but in practical terms there were things like police vehicle operations,” Morin said.
“That’s everybody’s favourite,” Morin smiled.
“It’s everybody’s first time driving a police cruiser, testing it out, you can practice multi-tasking, talking on the radio, driving at high speeds, in pursuit of other vehicles, you practice traffic stops, it feels real.”
Such training takes place at a facility known as ‘the track.’
The track is not a race track, but a series of streets within a mock city, with mock apartment buildings, restaurants, banks and other structures at the OPC complex in Aylmer.
“They actually hire actors and you’re put into scenarios and you apply what you’re learning in class,” Morin said.
“At the beginning it seemed so dry in the classroom, but then you feel really proud of yourself when you apply everything. They give you an artificial gun and you’re going in and doing a real scenario and then you think ‘my gosh, I did everything they taught me in class,’” Eaton said.
Graduation ceremony at OPC came in July.
“It was fun. It was very hot. The number ones (parade uniforms) are not made of the most breathable material,” Morin laughed.
“But it was definitely a very proud moment. I remember marching out and my Mom and sister were both crying…you march back in and everyone starts clapping,” Morin recalled.
“My family came and they were very proud. It was a very long process to get to that point,” Eaton said.
The return to the Sault and the final hiring process to enter the ranks of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service was the hardest part of it all, both officers said.
The pressure was on in an emotional and mental sense, as they both dearly wished to work for their hometown police service (though the options were open to re-apply, or apply elsewhere, such as the OPP), but they succeeded.
“People ask us ‘is it all you wished and hoped for and dreamed about it?’ and we say ‘yes, it is!’” Eaton smiled.
“I think it’s the best job in the world. I love it,” Morin said.