A mini-depot held in Prince George recently gave teens dreaming of a career in the RCMP a taste of what life in the red serge means.
Just before noon on a Wednesday the gym at Kelly Road Secondary was full of grunts, groans and raised voices as around 30 Grade 11 and 12 students, who apply for a place in the program from towns throughout the north, learned police defensive tactics followed by hard hand control tactics.
Special constables and auxiliary officers train the group. Two stand in front of a semi-circle of students as they demonstrate how to take down a suspect using hard hand control. One grabs the other’s wrist and begins to turn his body, shifting his weight to his back foot while using his other hand to apply pressure into the triceps of the ‘suspect’. Smooth and quick, that officer is down with the other man’s knee in his back.
If the suspect continues to struggle and resist you just keep turning, the officer explains.
Then the students partner up and practice.
This is followed by push-ups.
One student, exhausted by a day that begins at 6 a.m., says he can’t finish that exercise.
“If you guys use the word can’t you’ve already given up,” he is advised.
The student rephrases and explains he is having difficulty finishing the exercise. He is acknowledged and the class is dismissed with a few minutes to clean up and change into casual matching outfits, green tees and dark slacks, before heading to the drill room where they will form up into pairs then march down the hall and around the corner to the mess hall for lunch.
Besides intense physical activity, classes on topics like law as well as scenarios where actors play criminals and students react using what they’ve learned, the week-long experience teaches camaraderie, which is also a reflection of what happens at depot.
“It’s very physical and there is a lot of hard work for these kids,” said Special Const. Davy Greenlees who has been involved with the program for a decade and in charge of it for about half that time. “But it is a lot less intensive than what depot is. The kids who attend get high school credits.”
The kids check their cell phones at the door when they enter the school on the Saturday the mini-depot begins and live ‘in barracks’ until it ends the following Saturday.
The experience is singular, so much so that many participants stay in contact with each other, and with Greenlees, for years afterwards.
Many go on to fulfill their dream of joining the RCMP. Others go on to a career in the military. And, equally important according to Greenlees are those who realize that a career in the RCMP just isn’t right for them.
“Just as important are those who say, ‘hey, this was cool but it isn’t for me’,” Greenlees said.
In fact, this year at least one student decided that after the first day and went home. For those who remain, the experience includes learning how to use the baton, handcuffs, a day on the range and, a student favourite, the scenarios.
The basement of the school is a dark catacomb, perfect for these events. One of those played out, Greenlees said, includes a domestic assault. These calls can be difficult for seasoned officers, and including it within the parameters of this training experience allows students to get a glimpse into what it takes mentally to be a cop.
The ‘officers’ respond to a complaint of a neighbour hearing a male and female yelling at one another. They need to find out what’s going on. What do they do if the female says whatever happened was her fault? Or that nothing happened at all? Is she telling the truth, or is something else going on?
How do officers answer those questions and take the next appropriate step?
Greenlees said the exercises are often stopped mid-stream so students can discuss those sorts of questions and apply the training they’ve learned.
They also practice traffic stops and calls,-including one where the suspects are just a couple sitting, listening to music and talking. Those kinds of calls come in all the time, Greenlees said. At the other end of the spectrum, students play out scenarios where there is a potential for an active shooter.
“They need to make well-defined decisions while keeping safe,” he said.
This need combines with a brutal schedule with students rising for a morning run at 6 a.m. through a day filled with learning experiences into an evening of scenarios that ends just before 11 and light’s out.
“They need to see how hard it is to make decisions while you’re tired,” Greenlees said.
Const. Drew Padgett never took the course as a student, however the Prince George born and bred boy did teach it as an auxiliary officer. Now stationed in Hope, the constable returned this year not only because he knew they always need help running the course but because his younger brother is taking it.
“Having my brother in the camp was definitely a determining factor in my coming,” Padgett said. “Being in the RCMP has always been a dream of mine. I’m the first in my family, but my little brother will be following in my footsteps.”
His brother, Taylor Braat, said he was interested in the force for some time, but that interest turned into something more when he attended his brother’s graduation ceremony.
His brother encouraged him to attend the camp.
“It’s tough physical work. You have to be able to keep at it and work through the pain,” Braat said. “I am sore head to toe.”
The classes, he added, require a lot of concentration with just a few hours to learn points-of-law before applying that knowledge in a scenario.
But it has all been worth it for him.
“I am definitely interested in getting in the RCMP. I would definitely like to see my brother hand me a badge, with me wearing red serge one day.”