High Noon on the High Marsh Road: The Many Dimensions of Law Enforcement

A rollicking chorus from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance rings down the years: When constabulary duty’s to be done to be done The Policeman’s lot is not a happy one. Dating from 1880, this well-known musical portrayed popular opinion of policing both then and now.

Respect for law and order is a hallmark of civilized society. It follows that its enforcement, however unpleasant for the constabulary is essential. Worth noting is that the establishment of Sackvilles Police Department was related to incorporation of the town in 1903. One of the most important factors in the Yes campaign was the need for a local police force.

An attraction of Sackville as a place to live is its low rate of serious criminal activity. A glance through past records reveals that the majority of charges and convictions have been related to break and enter, theft, common assault, vandalism, traffic violations along with liquor and drug infractions. While not in any way downgrading these offenses, a few minutes clicking the television remote, or surfing the Internet will reveal how fortunate we are.

For more than half of its history, the Sackville police force consisted of a chief of police (sometimes referred to as town marshal) and one constable. Also available was an officer employed by the Canadian National Railway, who often assisted local police in times of emergency or illness.

Today, nearly fifty years later, the composition of the Sackville police force is very different. Under the direction of Acting Deputy Chief Dale Mitton, it is a force of ten members plus one part time officer and a secretary. In the early days, police entered the profession with little in the way of formal training. By contrast, all active members of the present force are graduates of the Atlantic Police Academy

Acting Deputy Chief Dale Mitton, although relatively new to Sackville is a seasoned police veteran. He was appointed last August following 30 years service with the Moncton Police Force and the RCMP. Since his retirement from the RCMP he has undertaken a number of special policing assignments. However, with family roots in Port Elgin, Mitton remarked that he feels very much at home in Sackville. During a wide-ranging interview the unique role of the Sackville Police Dog Program was discussed. One illustration will underscore its significance.

The Program began with Constable Dale McCluskeys interest in the role of dogs in policing. In 1995 with the support of Chief Stewart McFee, he was able to procure a German Shepherd dog named Reuben. Following completion of a short course in canine training, he took on responsibility for teaching Constable Reuben. A mere nine months later, the dog made his first drug related arrest.

Constable McCluskey emphasized that a key ingredient in establishing the Program was support given by local firms and organizations. These included: the Lions Club, Police Association, Johnstones Save-Easy, Sackville District Ambulance and Atlantic Towing.

Without question Reubens finest hour took place one bitterly cold winters day in late February 1998. Three inmates from the Westmorland Institution in Dorchester had escaped and were believed to be on the loose in the Sackville area. A motorist near the CBC towers on the Trans Canada Highway noticed people out on the marsh a highly unlikely place on such a day. He called the RCMP, who immediately contacted Constable McCluskey. Within minutes he and Reuben were on the scene.

As Constable McCluskey explained: On my command, Reuben immediately started to follow tracks in the snow sometimes these were not even visible to the eye, as the ground was ice covered in places at times Reuben was literally pulling me along over the ice. It soon became obvious that we were headed in the direction of Sunken Island. This information was relayed to the RCMP, who contacted a helicopter, already enroute to help in the search.

Meanwhile, members of the Department of Natural Resources and police were staked out on the High Marsh Road. McCluskeys hunch was correct. The suspects were spotted heading for the shelter of some woods on Sunken Island. By this time, Reuben was in high gear as he realized that his quarry was close at hand. Very soon, the dog was circling the terrified escapees, huddled in the snow.

As his trainer explained: We were very apprehensive at first, because we did not know if the prisoners were armed. There had been reports of break and enter overnight, and there was always the possibility some firearms might have been stolen. The atmosphere was almost surreal, with snow swirling around and the hovering chopper overhead it was like a scene from a movie. Fortunately the suspects were unarmed and soon in custody.

Overall Reuben was responsible for some 40 arrests and the retrieval of approximately $100,000. in stolen property and drugs. Most regretably in 1999, just as he was hitting his stride, the dog was struck by a genetically related illness and died. McCluskey was faced with a decision. Would he attempt to train another dog? After mulling it over, he decided to obtain a second German Shepherd dog.

There was one problem the new dog was unnamed. The decision was referred to students at Salem Elementary School. Soon McCluskey was inundated with over 100 suggestions. In this long list, identical nominations were submitted by two students: Samantha Drew and Aaron Morrison. As he recalled: the suggested name Thunder was so appropriate, that I immediately declared two winners! To date, Thunder is following successfully in his predecessors footsteps, with more than 20 arrests to his credit. Watch the Police Beat for further details.

In addition to all the normal constabulary duties, another dimension to local law enforcement has become evident in recent years. Never likely to claim headlines it is, nonetheless, of prime importance. The Department has made a concerted effort to liaise directly with the community it serves.

This outreach began in 1987 when Corporal Ted Doncaster was assigned to part time duty at Tantramar Regional High School. Although the program is no longer in operation, several members of the Sackville force have continued to work closely with local schools. Such activities as Pre Halloween lectures, safety demonstrations, classroom visitations, a Safe Grad program and participation in Salems HARE Week read-ins are a few examples.

It will be no surprise to learn that Thunder is a popular school visitor. Officers McCluskey and Doncaster, with Thunders help, have developed a routine that has proven highly effective. While the latter is discussing problems associated with drugs, alcohol and nicotine addiction, his partner is hiding small packets of contraband. Then the star performer, Thunder is called in and commanded to sniff them out. To the students delight, he never fails to do so.

Nor are outreach programs limited to schools. Sponsorship of events such as: the Fall Fair Soap Box Derby, Tug of War Competitions, a Neighbourhood Watch and Block Parent program, baby-sitting courses, the provision of trophies for minor hockey, special Police Week activities each May, and lectures to church groups and other organizations have become part of community life.

During our interview Acting Deputy Chief Mitton expressed his satisfaction with the cooperative spirit that exists between the Town Police and the local detachment of the RCMP. In addition, because of the proximity of Amherst and Sackville and despite the provincial boundary, close collaboration between the two Police Departments has evolved over the years. He also noted that since there is no other police dog nearby Thunder is on call to all neighbouring police forces.

To coordinate activities representing the many dimensions of law enforcement, a committee to encourage formal community input was recently reactivated. It consists of Vernon Crosthwaite, Ted Doncaster, Joanne Goodrich, Ross Monk, Jane Robertson, David Slipp and Tammy Scott-Wallace. Additional members from Mount Allison, Tantramar High and the local Quality of Life Committee will augment this group. For the record constabulary duty and community outreach are both integral parts of law enforcement. As the Acting Deputy Chief expressed it: My philosophy has always been that we are working with the community, in the community and for the community.