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Behind the scenes of the military police
“It’s not pleasant,” says master seaman William Henderson as he looks at the five empty cells in the detention barracks housed at the military police headquarters at CFB Esquimalt.
A small bed with a green mattress and neatly folded blanket sits in one corner of a tiny cell, along with a table. A few glass block windows let in a sliver of natural light.
Henderson points out the red squares and lines on the shiny floors, marking where detainees have to stand and ask permission to do certain things like eat or sit down. In order to teach discipline, the detainees rise at 6 a.m. and follow a strict daily schedule that includes endless cleaning, marching drills, ironing shirts and polishing boots, until they’re told to go to bed at 2100 hours.
“It doesn’t matter how good they (the boots) are, they can be better,” says Henderson, adding the detainees can face more charges or fines if they disobey commands. “It’s serious. A lot of people might not think about their career implications.”
Depending on the severity of the offence, those who arrive at the detention barracks at CFB Esquimalt can spend up to 14 days in custody before they are sent to Edmonton, which has the only military prison in Canada.
The Canadian Forces Code of Service Discipline, has a number of offences unique to the military, such as absence without leave or drunkenness. Some have found themselves behind bars for repeatedly being late to work or leaving the door unlocked of a building.
Working as a member of the CFB Esquimalt military police, Cpl. Dustin Renz investigates a number of files ranging from minor traffic offences, drunk driving and drugs to assaults, fraud and the occasional break and enter. Any major crime get deferred to national investigative services.
For Renz, policing the base is similar to policing a small town. Covering the areas of Naden, Albert Head, Belmont Park, Rocky Point and Work Point, the 45 members receive regular calls, but have lower volumes than city police, allowing them to be more proactive than reactive and follow up with files.
“You can make a big impact on people’s lives on some of the calls. People have come back and said thanks. You don’t always get that opportunity to follow up and see how things turned out,” said the 25 year old, who recently responded to a mental health call and helped a woman going through a tough time.
“We just communicated with her and followed up afterwards with her husband and found out she was doing good, so that made me happy. It turned into a good situation.”
Similar to city police, the military police have a breath technician room to process impaired drivers, a digital forensics technician, identification section, and an evidence room lined with red bins. Some have labels that read “sexual assaults” with evidence dating as far back as the early 90s. A fridge with locks stores DNA samples collected from various investigations.
Maj. Lisa Clark, who’s spent the bulk of her career in the army, considers the military police to be more trained than civilian officers since they are provided all of the military aspects as well.
“We’re expected to be soldiers and sailors, but we’re also expected to be police, and then we receive all the policing aspects on top of that as well,” said Clark. “We’re double hatted that way.”
Driving through the base in his patrol car, Renz explains how he joined the military as a reservist eight years ago with a goal of becoming a police officer. But he’s also become deeply involved with the community, running the dive club on the base and a kids magic club at the rec centre. One of his biggest fans is his young next door neighbour.
“He loves it when I open the car and I let him play with the buttons. I brought him in one weekend and showed him the place. He was really excited,” said Renz. “The military is there to protect Canada and we’re here to protect the military community so it’s a unique opportunity.”