Yesterday the town of Newmarket pretty much shut down for several hours while everyone turned out to honor the death of a police officer who was killed last week in the line of duty. He had stopped some stupid 15yr olds out joyriding in a van and when he reached in to take the keys out of the ignition, the idiot behind the wheel stood on the accelerator and dragged the cop into a field, where the van flipped, and pinned officer Garrett Styles beneath. He died shortly afterward, still pinned, but on the radio up to the last few moments trying to get help for the damned kids inside the van.
They all had cell phones. None of them called 911, not even for the driver who was badly injured when the van flipped. He’ll be a paraplegic for the rest of his life and, as callus as it sounds, I don’t feel sorry for him. He’s being charged with first degree murder and I only hope the jury doesn’t get overwhelmed with sympathy seeing him in court in a wheel chair.
Officer Styles was only 32. He left a wife, a 2yr old daughter and a 10wk old son behind.
My dad was a cop for 35 years and my mother lived in constant fear of getting that knock on the door late at night. As kids, my sister and I were just proud of the fact that our dad got all spiffed up in his uniform and headed out to work each day, and when he came home, one of us got to wear his hat, the other got to put his badge and wallet on the dresser.
He did a short stint once, as an undercover officer, which mortified my mother because he was required to wear grubby, torn clothes, go unshaven and unwashed while he pretended to be a street bum for a few weeks. I remember the fights they had when he’d come home. She wanted him to go back to the beat, he wanted to eventually become a detective and the fast track to that was doing the undercover work.
I don’t recall the case he was working on, but whatever it was, they found out he was a cop and one night, while we were asleep, some men came to the house and tried to set it on fire. They burned the shrubs and set fire to the back porch. They unscrewed the cap on the oil tank and tried dropping matches inside but a neighbour had called the cops and the sirens scared them away. Scared my mother shitless too and she gave my dad the ultimatum: quit the undercover stuff or end the marriage. We moved shortly afterward, clear out to what was then practically farm country.
He wouldn’t give up the force entirely, despite my mother’s constant nagging, because he absolutely loved his job. He resigned himself to being a beat cop, but he was the kind who got to know every store owner, every manager, every employee on his beat. He worked right downtown Toronto and on Saturdays, used to toss me in the car and we’d go “cronie crawling”. He’d go to Daiters Deli to buy cheese and cream and smoked fish. He’d go to Ungermans to buy fresh chickens, and yak with the owner, Irv Ungerman, who introduced him to a young fighter he was grooming named George Chuvalo. We’d hit half a dozen stores along his beat and basically buy groceries for the week, but at each stop, the owner would take him into the back room, open the bottom drawer of the desk and pull out a bottle of whiskey. They’d share a shot and “shoot the breeze” for a half hour or so, while I was treated to a chocolate bar and a can of pop and got to watch the guys make fresh cottage cheese, or watch the chickens getting plucked. If we had to walk any distance to get to the car, it was inevitable that another store owner would see him and call him in. He’d get the shot of whiskey, a sandwich, smoked fish, samples of whatever the store was selling… I’d get the pop and candy bar. My mother would always wonder why neither one of us had an appetite when we got home.
When I got older, he used to show up at the school sometimes in his uniform to pick me up. He’d pretend he was there to arrest me and while I used to groan and say awwww daaaaaaaad…I loved it. I loved being a cop’s daughter.
Since he couldn’t do the undercover work, he threw himself into his second love, guns. He was the department sharpshooter for years. He won tons of trophies and did exhibitions at the police games every year. He was an instructor at Camp Borden on weekends, driving a busload of rookies to the camp and teaching them how to shoot handguns, rifles, shotguns. He used to take me with him sometimes when he went for target practice, even let me take shots now and then. How many other kids could say that? My job was to collect all the spent casings because they were the most expensive part of the bullet. He would take them home, go down to his little workroom in the basement and refill them. Yep, he made his own bullets.
One day on the beat, he was chasing some damned kid who tried to rob one of the stores. The kid took off across a parking lot and jumped a chain link fence. My dad took off after him and hit the fence running…and almost made it over (he was a big guy, 6′ 4″ and 250lbs) but his hand got caught on the top of his fence and tore one of his fingers to shreds. He had surgery on it right away, but there was too much damage and, because it was his trigger finger, it ended his sharpshooter days. He practised like hell and tried to get the full use of it back, but despite what they show in movies when the hero gets mangled and comes back stronger than before, it doesn’t work that way. He still taught the rookies and went shooting every weekend. And because of his size, he was always able to pick up extra work as a rent-a-cop. That was how he got tickets to the Beatles concert at Maple Leaf Gardens. He was hired to work security along with half the other cops in the city, and managed to wangle four tickets to see the Beatles. My sister and I were both allowed to take a friend and even though we weren’t quite sure what all the fuss was about–they had just begun to take the world by storm–we were screaming and hollering right alongside the other bazillion kids who packed into the stadium. After the concert, we met my dad where we were supposed to meet him, and he had his “I’m a cop, I can do this” grin on his face, and he took us backstage.
Shortly after that, with the same grin, he took me downtown on a Saturday afternoon. The cronie crawling days had more or less ended, since I was older, so I was a bit resentful being taken away from my tennis games and boy-watching down at the local park. He said it was important, so I endured. At the time, they were talking about closing down the old Don Jail and building a new, modern jail in it’s place. He took me to the Don and did a little tour, showing me the booking room and the cool cells with the thick iron bars and big brass keys. He told me to go in and see how it felt. When I was in, he closed the door and locked it. Still cool. Sorta. There were two spaced out junkies in the cells on either side. The coolness wore off fast when one of them started screaming and banging the bars, but did he let me out? Nope. He left me there for a couple of horrible hours, and when he eventually did come back and let me out, all he said was: “That’s what happens when you take drugs.”
It was a simple, stark lesson but it worked. I don’t even take aspirin unless it’s absolutely necessary. And years later, when they finally did close down the jail, he gave me a little envelope that felt pretty heavy. I opened it warily, cuz you never knew what Mr Practical Joker would be giving you..and inside was the thick brass key to one of the old jail cells. It probably wasn’t for the cell I was locked in, but it was pretty darn cool to have it anyway.
He also took it upon himself to teach me how to drive. He had never, in all his years in a cruiser or out, had an accident, been involved in an accident, or even had a parking ticket and he expected both of his daughters to be able to say the same. Back then you could get your license the day you turned 16, but power steering wasn’t standard, neither were power brakes, so for a 16yr old, driving a great huge honkin’ Pontiac, having to crank that steering wheel to turn and almost stand on the brake pedal to stop it…it was a pretty daunting experience. Even worse…a few days before I was scheduled to take my driving test, he took me into downtown Toronto on the Friday night and made me drive back and forth along Spadina Avenue in rush hour. Spadina was the heart of the garment district and one of the main thoroughfares so I had to maneuver around insane traffic, trucks, street cars, and buses. AND he made me parallel park. Twice. Even though I was in tears, he just sat there and made me keep driving. He said we would sit there all night if we had to, but I was driving home, and if I could do that, I could pass any test they threw at me.
It was another lesson well learned. Forty five years later, I’ve never had so much as a parking ticket. Mind you, I’ve NEVER had to EVER parallel park again, although I bet could do it with my eyes closed *snort*.
The point of this ramble is to say that I’m a cop’s daughter. When I think of him, I usually think of him in his uniform. I see his silly little grin and see him waving me over to hop into the cruiser. I see all his buddies at the station who knew me by name, or, if they were new, as “Big Jan’s daughter”. He never did make detective, never even made Sergeant though he wrote the exam a half dozen times. Years of shooting without protection damaged his ears, causing him to have horrible dizzy spells and lose his balance, so he couldn’t drive a cruiser anymore or walk the beat. But he refused to retire or take a disability pension. He loved the job so much he spent the last few years working in the property room until it was mandatory for him to retire.
I have so many more terrific, wonderful, memories. Some scary ones. Some goofy, some painful. But I was always proud to be a cops daughter, and proud of the person he helped shape me into.
Officer Garrett Styles had a son and daughter who will never have a chance to know him, to build memories, to see that little “I’m a cop so I can do it” grin. My heart goes out to his wife and family. He gave his life doing a job that put his life on the line every day, but one that he loved. Some people wouldn’t understand what drives a family man to do that, but I do.
I’m a cop’s daughter.