THE CITY LOOKS smaller from inside a police car. By one in the morning on Friday, September 10, after spending nearly six hours in Constable Mark Long’s cruiser, we must have driven through every street in South End Halifax at least twice. We’ve repeatedly passed the same party houses—usual trouble spots, nicknamed “frequent flyers” by the cops—but never stopped at any of them. Tonight, virtually no one has called in a noise complaint. “I think the word of mouth has got out there,” Long hypothesizes, driving down University Avenue. “Some of the senior officers we’ve worked with over the years have noticed, I think last night, how quiet it’s been so far this year.”
This isn’t typical, Long assures me. Usually, this kind of cruise, under the umbrella of a police initiative called Operation Fall Back, has dealt hundreds of tickets to students for noise violations or underage drinking. That’s because the operation multiplies police presence among south end university campuses by as much as four times during September: “Basically what we say—what’s considered reasonable?” Long explains. “Is it reasonable to have a party at three o’clock in the morning? No.”
But tonight is a quiet night for Fall Back. Instead, it resembles an officer’s regular patrol: when a silver Honda with no license plates flies past us, Long accelerates from zero to 60 in seconds. He hits one of several small buttons above his radio—“WAIL”, it reads, and wail it does; the lights flash and the siren crescendos. Later, we’re called to find a man in a rugby shirt with a single leather glove and screwdriver in his back pocket, caught trying to break into a car; Long hits “YELP”, immediately to WAIL’s right, and a faster siren blares as we race north on Robie. “It’s funny,” Long says, “because when people ask sometimes, y’know, ‘Well, what’s your job like?’ I say, ‘It’s everything you wanted to do when you were five-years-old.’ Y’know? Cops and robbers.”
“People ask sometimes, y’know, ‘Well, what’s your job like?’ I say, ‘It’s everything you wanted to do when you were five-years-old.’ Y’know? Cops and robbers.”
Long—36-years-old, with eight of those years dedicated to the Halifax Regional Police—estimates that students only make up around 30 per cent of an average patrol night. September is traditionally the exception: with the return of the student populace, noise complaints in South End Halifax have been known to double from August to September. That’s why Operation Fall Back began six years ago: it cut that number down to 230 last year, a steady decline from the 332 in 2005. Not surprisingly, the number of issued tickets in that same time span has skyrocketed: noise bylaw and public intoxication tickets have practically doubled; under-age drinking shot up from 8 to 43; and illegal possession of liquor soared from 35 to 152.
Long drives the way he talks—calmly, efficiently, and unfailing polite. “I don’t worry too much about what other officers have done,” he says. “I can conduct myself the way I can. And you get some people that you can’t please, no matter what you do, no matter how you treat them.” He’s surprisingly candid, answering questions about anything—his wife (Greek), his daughter (eight months), his religion (Greek orthodox—he converted for her), why he wears shorts when all the other officers wear long pants (“Still warm enough that I can get away with it. In about three weeks, it’ll be pants all the way.”). He double-majored in philosophy and sociology at Saint Mary’s University, worked security in a casino in Australia for six months, and commuted eight hours every weekend to visit his fiancée in Halifax during his years as a computer programmer in Bar Harbor, Maine. “You’re not gonna be the same person from the day you start policing as you will when you end,” he says. “Because you can’t, y’know… You can’t. Everything you see, and sometimes I—you’ll hear other officers, or you’ll think, ‘What would it be like if I could erase my mind of everything I’ve seen in the last eight years, and go back to being naïve of what goes on?’”
All of a sudden, the radio speaks up—“Can’t gain entry… aunt’s residence…” It’s hard to make out the words, but Long seems to understand: “Triple-Charlie-Three to station: we’ll go to that.” He WAILs our way through traffic, YELPing at intersections for safety. “This is an unknown trouble call,” he explains, focusing on the road. “And somebody said basically, they’re at their aunts, and they’re looking through the window, and they can see her laying on the ground.” WAIL. A paddy wagon speeds ahead of us, and we follow it through the twisting side streets. YELP. “Everything you wanted when you were five-years-old,” Long repeats, gripping a sharp turn onto Glendale Road.
“You’ll hear other officers, or you’ll think, ‘What would it be like if I could erase my mind of everything I’ve seen in the last eight years, and go back to being naïve of what goes on?’”
When we arrive at the house, we spot three women crying by a parked ambulance. Long steps inside as two more officers pull up. After ten minutes, Long re-emerges. I ask him how it looks. “Not good.” He approaches the crying women, says he’s sorry for their loss, asks if the older woman has anyone to stay with tonight; yes, she replies, her daughter is with her. Long nods, turns to me and quietly says we should go.
I would later read in the Chronicle Herald that this was Margaret Jean Pellerine, 77, mother of police officer Bruce Pellerine—a friend and coworker of Long’s.
“A lot of times people say to somebody, ‘Well, how old was the person when they passed away?’” Long says, pulling onto Connaught. “Oh, they were 90; oh, well they did live a good life, too, right.’ They lived a good life or whatever, but you know what? It’s still somebody’s mom, or somebody’s dad, or somebody’s sister. No matter how old you get, that’s still your mom, that’s still your dad, right.” He pauses. Voices talk to each other over the radio as we head back to the south end. Driving east on Quinpool Road, we pass a scruffy man collecting pop cans on the side of the road. “You know, it’s amazing the amount of stuff they can get on one of those shopping carts,” Long offers. By this point, the death is several blocks behind us.
This article originally appeared in the Watch, in the October 2010 issue.