The Passion of a Young Police Officer

By Colin McGregor              

When she was little, Marie (not her real name) collected police-related objects.

“I had a great big box” she recalls, smiling. “Lots of stuff, toy cars, things I cut out of magazines.” She watched police shows on TV, and the reruns too. “I could even recite them!”

She was inspired by her grandfather, a Montreal police officer. His beat – the iconic working class neighborhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. “Every time I saw a police officer,” she confides, “I thought about my papi.”

When it came time to decide on a career, she had an educational background that included a CEGEP humanities diploma. At the time, she reflected on several possible paths – law, criminology…

“The police wasn’t something automatic,” she says. But her family lineage inspired her. At the time of our interview, Marie was getting ready to don the uniform of a Montreal police officer in three weeks’ time.

She has travelled a long way to get to this point. Quebec police officers require more education than most others in North America. First of all, three years of CEGEP, in a police technology course. Then, 15 weeks at the only police college in the province, L’École Nationale de Police du Québec in Nicolet near Trois-Rivières. And that doesn’t come for free: Nicolet costs $10,400 in tuition fees.

To become a police officer you have to answer a series of questions. There is a long investigation process, one that takes almost four years. That done, they take your fingerprints; analyze the criminal records of your entourage. You have to be passionate if you follow this career path. And when Marie talks, the passion is palpable in her voice.

Mentally Tough

Nicolet is tough mentally, Marie says. “But you tell yourself, it’s only for 15 weeks.”

She went on a personal trip to New York for New Year’s. In interacting with cops there she discovered that their Montreal counterparts are well respected. That’s thanks to the educational requirements.  

When her grandfather was starting out none of those prerequisites existed. “You had to be six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds,” Marie explains. That’s no longer the case, though there are physical tests to pass before you’re accepted. The result: 50% of her Nicolet class consisted of women.

Marie is 25. Today’s police forces accept recruits that are much older than in her papi’s time. There was a 30-year-old woman in her class. She has a master’s degree. Marie explains: “They want people with university degrees because they’ve got a different background. More maturity, more life experience.” Besides, crimes are getting more complex. “Take car theft. You push two buttons and you’ve got the car.”  

What draws her towards police work nowadays? She wants to be close to citizens, to be able to make a difference in their lives. She also wants to ensure that life is as fair as it can be for everyone. And she wants to demolish myths about the police.

Fady Dagher

Since reformer Fady Dagher became chief of the Montreal police, there’s another hurdle to jump over. Five weeks of immersion in the community as a civilian before you get to wear the uniform. It’s to learn about the reality of community organizations. These pre-police officers are present in no less than 10 community resources across Montreal.

There’s a theme for each week of the immersion program. For example: homelessness; women; indigenous peoples; youths. Marie is learning a lot: “It’s crazy how many people use food banks.”

I talked to Marie during her immersion period. Her greatest fear was that someone in the community might take offense to her status as a police officer, that she could be told to “screw off” when she identified herself as police. Luckily, that hasn’t happened.

She has also had three weeks of simulations of dangerous situations. For the first time in her training, she is starting to really think about the risks of her chosen profession.

“In police technology and at Nicolet, I never thought about the risks,” she admits. “I could tell myself that it’ll happen in three years, in 15 weeks. But now, the simulations are making me reflect.”

She was the smallest in her Nicolet class. The instructors taught her some techniques to help small people defend themselves. That doesn’t make her any less nervous: “My heartbeat goes to 160 when we do simulations. The stress really gets to me. I’m soaked with sweat… At night, I grind my teeth so hard that my jaw hurts when I wake up in the morning.”

Her main interests involve street gangs, juvenile prostitution… Big challenges for our young recruit.

She asked for, and was given, her grandfather’s old badge number. Always passionate about policing, regardless of the risks.  

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