Oct. 17, 2013, 2:08 a.m.: It started as a routine shift for Ontario Provincial Police constables Simpson, Gillard and Clarke. Until the 911 call. Immediately, the OPP Northumberland Detachment dispatched the officers to a home on Rice Lake. An elderly lady had awakened about 2 a.m. and discovered her 72-year-old husband missing. Constable Rob Simpson was first on the scene. Then Constable Ashley Gillard. Then Constable Phil Clarke. The woman told the officers her husband had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Simpson gathered more information and covered the immediate area. Gillard searched nearby roads. Clarke, knowing Alzheimer victims sometimes go to familiar places, went to the harbour area. As he walked onto the government pier he saw him. It was dark. Black. But about 60 feet off shore a man was swimming - actually, struggling. He went under, then came back up. Clarke radioed Simpson and Gillard and ran to his cruiser. He yanked the back seat out. He knew it was foam and would float, at least for a while. He also knew a thrashing, drowning victim posed a serious danger. He ran to the pier, flung the seat as far as he could, stripped to his boxers and jumped into the black, cold water. He said after, “It was the easiest decision I ever made in policing. It was black and white, no grey. I had to get him. He wasn’t going to make it otherwise.”
As Clarke dragged the man to shore, Simpson and Gillard arrived to help. The man was still in his pajamas and desperately cold and stiff. He slipped into unconsciousness. Clarke recalls, “It didn’t look good." They placed him in the cruiser, turned up the heat, covered him in blankets and Gillard worked to keep him conscious. Later, when Clarke was asked if the water was cold that night he replied, “I was told it was.”
The man recovered and on Feb. 11, 2014, Hamilton Township honoured Constable Clarke with an Outstanding Achievement Award for “his selfless act of exceptional bravery.” Clarke’s comment was, “Simpson and Gillard deserve much credit, too.” In fact, all police officers do.
Remember the recent ice storm – the big one? No power and huge trees thrown around like the gods had been playing pick-up-sticks. The ice had created a winter horror land that was tragic for some and a cold pain in the butt for most. After a day, I ventured out to survey the damage. We had a large maple on our roof and a Dumpster full of branches strewn down our driveway – and there, at the bottom of the hill, was a policeman hauling debris out of our drive and pulling a broken limb off the telephone lines. It was cold, slippery and dangerous. After the officer finished, I thanked him and said that I didn’t realize police did “damage clean-up.” Port Hope Constable Mathew Lawrence replied with a smile. “We do whatever we can to help.” Then he climbed into his car and went to help more people. I was reminded of how much they do that’s unseen, unreported and under appreciated.
So the next time you get stopped for speeding, take a deep breath and lose the 'damn-cops' attitude. Instead, thank the officer, not for the ticket, but for being there to serve and protect – perhaps save your wife, husband, kids, father, uncle, friend or neighbour. Or you. And remember, while we’re sleeping, there are a more than a dozen OPP, Cobourg and Port Hope officers patrolling Northumberland, watching out for us. We owe them a lot – certainly more gratitude and less attitude.
David Hughes has authored and ghostwritten 12 books and lives at his keyboard in Port Hope. He can be reached at email@example.com or straightspeak.com
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