From the Frontlines: A 103-call night

Officers rally as a once-uniquely high volume of calls for service pour in.

By Scott Paradis, 
Thunder Bay Police Service

Sgt. Todd Pritoula turned on his cruiser’s computer console to look at the call screen at the start of his Friday, Nov. 1 nightshift. A long list of calls his Unit A constables were already being dispatched to greeted him.

“It’s kind of like coming in to the start of your work day to a voicemail inbox that’s already full,” Sgt. Pritoula said as he looked toward the glowing green screen reading 22 active calls. “It’s also indicative of what dayshift probably went through. It was a busy day and it’s probably going to be a busy night.”

The sergeant would be proven right long before the shift reached call for service number 103.

Unlike a uniform patrol branch constable, Sgt. Pritoula isn’t directly dispatched from call to call. Instead, as a road sergeant , he oversees calls his constables are being dispatched to from the road.

The road sergeant is mandated to attend certain high priority calls – like a suicidal person or a sexual assault. Other calls requiring his direct attention will depend on the perspective and experience of the 20-year Thunder Bay Police Service veteran.

Yes, I guess you could say we have to triage our calls,” Sgt. Pritoula said, further explaining how the dispatching of a sergeant differs from a constable.

As he triaged those calls Friday, Sgt. Pritoula went from a family dispute to reports of an irate group refusing to leave a north-side bar. Before that he checked on a reported abandon vehicle, which turned out to be a pair of cross-country travellers taking a nap in a parking lot. These calls didn't require a sergeant’s involvement, but Sgt. Pritoula wanted to “try and help out where I can in terms of managing the (call) screen,” which continued to fill at a steady pace.

In addition to assisting with active calls, the road sergeant has to be mindful of the reports from other officers he’ll need to review before the end of shift.

The sergeant minimized the active call list on his computer briefly just before midnight to check his task screen. Already 25 reports were awaiting his review. He’d have to find time for them later as more active calls demanded his attention.

“It takes a while to know how to manage that time,” he said, “and I also have to put in reports of my own for these other calls I’m responding to.”

Back Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters, Sgt. Justin Dubuc occupied the watch commander’s office. Typically a road sergeant for Unit A himself, on this night Dubuc found himself in an acting role as the shift’s watch commander.

From this office he could see the calls flooding in. Even before midnight – the start of the proverbial witching hours – two paramedics had been assaulted, a number of weapon calls had been reported, and officers were working to check on the welfare of several vulnerable citizens who were believed to be in trouble.

Despite the magnitude of the evening, Acting Watch Commander Sgt. Dubuc’s mindset remained focused.  

“On a night like that it’s very difficult, but my primary concern is always the health and welfare of all our officers and the public,” Sgt. Dubuc said. “It’s honestly just rolling with the punches and trying to stay on your feet.”

Wet roads began to ice over as the temperature dipped below zero degrees just after midnight. Sgt. Pritoula drove, with extra caution due to the weather-related hazard, toward a reported call of domestic violence.

The reported domestic violence was no longer in progress when it reached Sgt. Pritoula’s call screen, but the sergeant looked through the call description and saw reason for his response.

This changed the moment he turned left from Beverly Street onto Winnipeg Avenue. His headlights illuminated a male standing in the middle of the roadway barefoot and shirtless. This man's jacket and shirt had been removed and strewn onto the street and his shoes were nowhere to be found.  

Once again Sgt. Pritoula would have to triage his calls, adding one instead of subtracting.  

“This became my priority because this person, left out there, could find themself in serious trouble,” he said.

The man, seemingly intoxicated and welcoming a conversation with the officer, was asked why he had removed his shirt and wasn't wearing shoes. The shirtless man said he was protesting, but couldn’t articulate what or why.

After some investigation Sgt. Pritoula learned the man’s home address and convinced him to put his jacket back on. The now-identified man was offered a ride home, which he accepted with a smile and a fist bump.

A call was removed, but the community’s need for its police service continued.

“Everyone kind of rallies,” Sgt. Pritoula said, explaining the mindset of officers on a particularly busy shift. “Everyone just comes together and works to clear the call screen up and take care of the public the best we can.”

On a typical night, Sgt. Dubuc would be in the same position as Sgt. Pritoula, triaging calls and trying to manage the call screen from the frontlines. On Friday night, bound to police headquarters by the duty of the watch commander’s office, Dubuc admitted it can feel frustrating not being on the road with his unit.

“But everybody has their job to do,” he explained. “Friday night, my job was to oversee everybody. We made it through the night, nobody got hurt, the calls were taken care of, and by the morning the dust had settled.”

A one-hundred-and-three call night isn’t the busiest the service has ever faced, but it is a daunting volume and can be taxing on the unit’s officers, explained Sgt. Pritoula explained. They’ll leave the station after nights like that feeling completely drained.

From Sgt. Dubuc’s perspective, nights like November first can no longer be described as rare.

“They used to be few and far between,” Sgt. Dubuc said. “Unfortunately now it’s almost like the norm. But these guys are tough. I think that the Thunder Bay Police Service (officers) are some of the toughest and most resilient officers in the country.”

He comes to that conclusion based on the type of policing the officers do, the calls for service they typically handle and the day-to-day stressors they encounter.

“I do think these officers are some of the best across the country, I really do.”

Friday night was Unit A’s first of two back-to-back night shifts. One day later, at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, Unit A wrapped up its first of two evening briefings.

At that moment the service’s call screen showed 16 active and pending calls for service. The metaphorical voicemail inbox wasn’t full as it had been the night before, but the community’s need for its police service was already apparent.

Unit A would need to be prepared for another rally.
 


From the Frontlines is a new eight-part series put together by the Thunder Bay Police Service to help showcase the work and highlight the challenges for frontline Uniform Patrol Branch officers.  A new From the Frontline article will be featured every week on the Thunder Bay Police Service website. The features are assembled with real officer experiences as observed through ride alongs by a civilian member of the service’s media relations department. The first four parts of From the Frontlines will be published throughout November. The remaining four parts will be published in January 2020. 

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Officers rally as a once-uniquely high volume of calls for service pour in.

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