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Night shift

The patience of many would wear thin if they had to listen the verbal insults of an intoxicated person. Unfortunately, for the RCMP, it goes with the job sometimes.

Chris Puglia
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 26/02) - Screams of anger echo through the halls of the Yellowknife RCMP holding cell block on a Friday night.

Four officers take position outside a locked cell, from where the screaming comes. The door slides open, the officers enter the cell and a moment later a small man, who is intoxicated, comes out.

An RCMP member goes on each side of him and hold the prisoner under the arms and usher him to another cell. It is an empty cell because he is being described as combative. The prisoner is verbally abusive but not physically violent.

Since the night shift began at 7 p.m. this is the seventh person detained for being intoxicated in public, and it is only 9 p.m..

"There are a lot of people who drink to a point they are unable to care for themselves and they are not in a safe environment. That's why we are called so we can pick them up and put them in a safe environment," says Const. Erick Youngstrom.

Depending on the situation, dealing with intoxicated people can tie up one unit or three for an indefinite amount of time. Youngstrom says there is no average call or average night.

"It all depends if they are causing some kind of disturbance. They vary from case to case. If they are passed out you have to get enough people to carry them safely. If they are combative that takes more time and if they are just drunk and have nobody to take care of them it can only take 20 minutes," he says.

"There isn't a typical one," says John Kowerchuk, an auxiliary constable who was paired with Youngstrom for the night.

The procedures used by police in these matters are meant to protect RCMP members and the person being detained.

Verbal abuse

Out on the road the RCMP's SUV cruises the streets. Tonight is quiet -- a steady rainfall is keeping people inside.

But then the police radio comes to life and the voice on the other end broadcasts a complaint at a downtown motel. Someone is trying to take up residence for the evening in the lobby.

Youngstrom radios a response and heads to the scene.

Pulling into the parking lot, Youngstrom and Kowerchuk leave the vehicle and enter the lobby. At the end of the hall a staff member tries to bar the door against a short, thin man trying to get in.

The officers quickly take over. They move the man away from the door and Kowerchuk cuffs him.

The man becomes verbally abusive -- yelling and cursing -- and the officers escort the man toward the police cruiser. They seem oblivious to the verbal insults.

The man is helped into the back of the cruiser and transferred to the RCMP holding cells. Once inside, the man's mood changes. Mistaking a female officer for someone else, he begins to profess his love for her and showers her with flattery.

"I love you Tammy. You're so beautiful," he yells.

The flattery will not get him an early release.

Police procedure dictates the man be searched and stripped to one layer of clothing before going into cells.

Once secured in a cell, a check is run on the man. The police discover there is warrant for his arrest and that he failed to appear in court to answer to a theft charge. The situation creates even more paperwork, which means less time for Youngstrom and Kowerchuk to patrol the streets.

"It's obviously time-consuming. It takes away from time you could be putting towards your criminal cases," said Youngstrom.

Detaining those who are intoxicated in public may seem like a waste of police resources, but Youngstrom explains that is a misunderstanding.

"They are lodged because we have to ensure their safety," said Youngstrom. "They are lodged because if they are drunk or passed out in an alley they could become the victim of a more serious crime. "They may not see it that way and be upset but that is the reason."

The police cruiser rolls down 50th street where the officers spot three young ladies, one of whom appears intoxicated.

Stumbling, she leans against a wall before she follows her friends into a bar.

This is a situation where the bar should not allow the woman to enter.

Let off with a warning

Part of police officer's duty is to sure her safety. The bar does its part and the woman is refused entry. The group walks down the street looking to get into another bar.

Youngstrom and Kowerchuk roll into action, pull up to the sidewalk and talk to the three women.

After a brief discussion, the woman who had been observed stumbling earlier, was put in a cab and sent home. The officers warn her that coming back could mean spending the night in the drunk tank.

"That's the best-case scenario (going home)," said Youngstrom as the cabs pulls away.

The goal isn't always to lock up the intoxicated person. When the person is a youth the police, whenever possible, try to get them home safely and turn them over to the custody of parents or guardians. Those who arrested for being intoxicated in public are not normally not charged.

"You don't want to criminalize a social problem or a disease. It's not really fair to charge people for being an alcoholic," says Youngstrom.

The RCMP are always working to reduce the number of people they have to detain. There are also early education programs, such as DARE, that educate youth about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.