Let’s hear it for the narc! The term comes from “narcotics officer,” those dedicated police officers who fought the war on drugs by infiltrating the drug rings to bring them down from the inside. It has since grown to apply to just about any law enforcement professional who’s drunk on their 2 cents worth of power. They are the ones who think zero tolerance is too tolerant. They’re the ones who’ll lock you up and throw away the key for the most minor of infractions. They don’t speak softly, but they carry a big stick…and a big gun, a big gun of pepper spray, all kinds of weapons. As long as they’re big. I recently came face-to-face with a narc and I tell ya, it was all I could do to keep from laughing my ass off.
It was a beautiful, sunny day at the Pembina River Provincial Park. My sister, niece, and nephew were visiting for the week, so we were swimming in the river and having a picnic supper. We had all the usual picnic fixings: veggies and dip, hot dogs with all the fixings, Kool-Aid, and, of course, a grand total of four cans of beer. Now, I was a little leery of having the beer along. As we all know, it is illegal to drink in public places, and that means day use areas at provincial campgrounds. True, we’ve gotten away with it for many, many past years, but I had read in the paper back at the July long weekend that the parks service was doing a crackdown this year. One too many rowdy teenagers ruining it for everyone.
Mom and Dad were leery, too, even though it was Mom’s idea to bring it along. But, this is where I really hand it to my parents. My mother was a justice of the peace and my father has done tons of volunteer work with the local police service. Thanks to their tutelage, I know exactly how much and what kind of defiance a police officer can legally put up with. Naturally, I’m the good child, so I’ve never had to put any of this knowledge to use. But it’s good to know. And they were dispensing the advice right now as my sister cracked the first beer. “OK, don’t drink it out of the can,” they said. “Pour it into a glass. It can be easily dismissed as something else.” My sister heeded their words for the first one.
But, during the second beer, that’s when my sister had fallen into the false sense of security that most lawbreakers fall into. As she sipped her second beer straight from the can, that’s when our two narcs walked out of the bushes. Or “Conservation officers,” or whatever the Klein government has re-christened the park rangers. They were a couple of young females, most likely university students doing this for the summer, my father speculated. One wore the nametag “L. Johnston,” the other was nametag-less. My sister noticed them and tried to manoeuvre her beer can to an out-of-sight position, but it was too late. The narcs charged our picnic site.
Officer Johnston headed straight over to my sister. The other one just stood around and looked menacing. “Is that a beer?” asked Officer Johnston, to which my sister sheepishly acknowledged. “Dump it out,” Officer Johnston barked. “I’m looking in the cooler,” Officer Johnston stated, and she dashed over to the big, red picnic cooler that we had our wieners in. I was sitting right next to this cooler, and for a split second, I felt like throwing my hand on top of the cooler and saying, “Not without a warrant,” but then, I remembered that “reasonable amount of defiance” my parents taught me. Their first lesson was, “If you are caught doing something you knew was wrong, be cooperative.” So, I just sat there as Officer Johnston threw open our cooler and rifled through my wieners. The nameless officer noticed the second cooler (the one my sister was sitting on), and politely asked if she could see inside. My sister obliged, and that’s when they noticed the one empty can and two unopened ones.
Officer Johnston whipped out her ticket book. “Can I see some ID?” she asked my sister. Well, no, my sister had none as she was swimming all day and left her purse at home. “Well, you know, it is MY beer. I brought it,” my mother asserted. Officer Johnston ignored my mother’s assertion and went back to my sister. “Which campsite is your unit in?” asked Officer Johnston. Well, we’re not camping here, Mom and Dad live in town and we’re just down for the day. “It is MY beer. It was my idea to bring it along,” my mother said again. Officer Johnston shrugged this off and told us that she needed to take my sister back up to their car to verify my sister’s information. As Officer Johnston hauled away my sister, the nameless officer saw a woman walking down the path with a bottle in hand. “Is that a wine cooler?” the other officer barked, as she walked over to the woman and began reaching for her nightstick.
As we awaited my sister’s return, we began going over our options. My mother explained why she kept stating that the beer was hers. “If they nail your sister with possession of alcohol in a public place,” Mom said, “we’ve got a legal defence now as I made it clear it was mine.” We were also disgusted at how Officer Johnston just began rooting through our cooler. By not asking for our permission, it did amount to unlawful search and seizure. We began wondering if we should file a complaint about that, and our talk expanded to the recent woes the RCMP have recently been handed by the supreme court. It is now deemed an unreasonable search and seizure for a police officer to pat you down and remove a suspicious item from your pocket. Police officers aren’t allowed to use handcuffs anymore. They’ve been deemed an unreasonable restraint. But they can still carry them, though. I shared with my folks my brief fantasy about asking to see a warrant before they went through the cooler, and my parents had to say that yeah, I probably would have been in the clear. They had heard that the current fine for drinking in public was $115, so they’d help my sister pay it.
After about 15 minutes or so, Officer Johnston escorted my sister back to our picnic site. She told us that she was letting my sister off with a warning this time, and that my sister had been evicted. My sister was banned from all Alberta Provincial Parks for the next 72 hours. My sister, quite literally, had until sundown to get out of the park. Since this was at 6:30 in the evening, we decided it was time to go home anyway. As we began to pack up, the man in the neighbouring picnic site had to come over and reveal that he thought those officer were being way too strict. “Where were they at 2 this afternoon? They could have picked up every second person on the beach,” he said. “Hell, where were they half an hour ago when those punks came driving through with their music blaring and pitching beer cans out the window of their truck?” He revealed himself to be an Edmonton Police Service constable.
As the family packed up the picnic site, I went back down to the beach to reclaim our left-behind beach gear. I walked on down just a few steps behind our two park rangers, as they were getting ready to bring law and order to the beach. I gathered up our air mattresses and beach toys as I saw the officers busting up any crowd consisting of three or more lawn chairs. One smart-mouthed individual began calling from the middle of the river. “Run everybody! The narcs are here!” he yelled. “Head for the river! They can’t swim! Hey, could somebody toss me another one out here?” The officers ignored him and went back to rooting through coolers.
As we drove away, I couldn’t stop from grinning. Hell, I was doing all I could to keep from laughing my ass off. Now, I wasn’t laughing at my sister. Being the non-drinker in the family, I knew I would be in the free and clear. I was laughing at the whole ridiculousness of the situation. Yes, my sister was drinking in a public place. Yes, it was against the law. But it was just four beers between four adults. Some other officer may have said, “OK, guys, just keep drinking responsibly.” However, if we had a cooler full of beer, then we would have probably deserved what we got. But over one beer….
So, let’s hear it for the narc! Those dedicated law enforcement officers who are drunk on their 2 cents worth of power. Those dedicated to busting up all kinds of fun and treat responsible users and criminal abusers with equal amounts of disdain. We can sleep easier tonight knowing that you are watching over us.