Policing can be a thankless job.
It takes extremely thick skin and steel-like emotions to survive a career in law enforcement.
That said, there are many intrinsic rewards that come with one of the most difficult professions on the face of the earth. The ability to help people and make a difference in someone’s life is one of those rewards. Having that impact is one of the most common reasons people sign up for the job.
During my career, I seized every opportunity to be an impact player. Whether it was serving the needs of victims, making arrests, or amending policy to make police operations more efficient, I always did my utmost to try and be someone who made a difference.
Those efforts extended to the 8′ x 10′ interview rooms where I interrogated some of the most dangerous, hardcore offenders the city of Winnipeg had to offer. Confessions or not, once the interrogation was complete, I always found the time to sit down with offenders and engage them in conversations designed to challenge them to become contributors.
One of those offenders was JT*, a twenty-one (21) year old Aboriginal man I first met on February 10, 1995. I was working as a Detective in Division #23 (Robbery/Homicide) when I was assigned the task of removing JT from the Remand Center to process him on two outstanding arrest warrants.
JT stood 5’11” and weighed in at 130 pounds. He was typical of many of the young Aboriginal arrestees I met during the course of my career. He was shy, soft-spoken and mistrusting of police. Not so typical was the fact he was concerned about someone other than himself.
It turned out JT and his girlfriend had been jointly charged for their alleged involvement in a bank robbery that occurred in a sleepy rural Manitoba town on February 8, 1995.
This was no mickey mouse bank job; two suspects entered the bank at 10:00 a.m. wearing snow suits & balaclavas to disguise their faces. One suspect was armed with a shotgun while the other was armed with a handgun. The suspects locked the bank manager in the vault and made off with several thousand dollars in Canadian and US cash. It was evident the suspects had done their homework and put some effort into casing the bank. They also used stolen vehicles during the heist. Their modus operandi was consistent with significant planning and a high level of sophistication.
RCMP investigators charged JT and his girlfriend with a number of offences in connection with the robbery after executing a search warrant at their home and recovering evidence linking them to the crime.
According to JT, his girlfriend had no involvement in the crimes, as he said, “I want to put it on the record that she had nothing to do with this at all. All I did was give my car to someone to use, that’s it,” he added.
The story evolved from there.
As the interrogation continued, JT would eventually crack, “I’ll tell you guys the truth, I’m not gonna lie anymore, I never lent him my car, I was there too.”
JT subsequently provided a signed written statement admitting to the crime. He did not implicate his girlfriend. It was evident JT was motivated to take responsibility out of respect and loyalty to his girlfriend. That kind of integrity is rare in a world where there is little honour among thieves.
After the interrogation, JT was returned to jail.
In all, he was in my custody for approximately seven hours.
We would meet again.
On January 28, 1994, another rural Manitoba bank was robbed of cash to the tune of over $120,000. The modus operandi had several compelling similarities to the other bank job, but in this incident the suspects took it to another level by speaking in bogus French accents to thwart law enforcement. In this case, employees were tied up, robbed of their personal effects and locked in the vault.
Unfortunately for JT, the RCMP located a ring at his residence that had been stolen from a bank employee during the heist. JT was to be charged with Possessing Goods Obtained by Crime and interrogated regarding his suspected involvement in the crime. With no other evidence, a confession would be required to lay charges in connection with the hold up.
In a highly unusual turn of events, the RCMP approached the WPS and requested we proceed with the investigation. It made sense, as we had developed an excellent rapport with JT as evidenced by the confession we previously elicited from him. The RCMP recognized we were in a strong position to solve the crime and wanted to hedge their bets. This kind of big picture thinking is seldom experienced in a competitive profession where ego and control are often precursors that influence the decision-making process.
Nevertheless, we eagerly accepted the opportunity and couldn’t wait to get JT back in the “box”.
On February 15, 1995, at 7:18 pm, I was working with my regular partner, Detective Sergeant George “Jungle” Murray, when we placed JT under arrest for possession of the stolen ring. “Are you serious, holy f–k,” he said when I read him his Charter Rights. It was clear he didn’t see this one coming.
On arrival to the Public Safety Building, JT was placed in an interview room where he declined to speak with a lawyer indicating, “No lawyer can help me, I know what I have to do.” The decision to come clean and implicate the mastermind behind the plot came easy for JT once he learned the size and scope of the take in the heist.
Jewell – “Are you aware of how much money was stolen in this robbery?”
JT – “How much?”
Jewell – “It was over $120,000.”
JT – “Holy shit.”
Jewell – “What was your cut out of that?”
JT – “You’re gonna laugh, fifteen hundred ($1,500), that’s all.”
(Note to bank robbers, co-conspirator loyalty is seldom bought when you only give them 1.25% of the take.)
JT subsequently provided a detailed written account of the robbery implicating himself and one of the most brazen bank robbers ever encountered by law enforcement in the Province of Manitoba.
The resolution of the bank robbery was one of the most significant investigations I participated in during my three year assignment in the Robbery Squad. After all, six figure bank jobs just don’t happen everyday.
Before returning JT to the Remand Centre, I spent half-an-hour with him having one of “those conversations”. I sensed JT was different. He cared about someone other than himself, he was emotional and appeared to have a moral code. Those were all things that spoke of his potential. I never knew if I was wasting my time with offenders like JT or not. It mattered not to me, I saw these conversations as necessary parts of the job, that is, to try to reach offenders and influence them to alter their paths.
The success stories are rare.
On January 29, 2014, I was shopping with my wife when we walked into a business and literally bumped into a man whose face lit up when our eyes met.
“Officer Jewell,” he said.
As I stood there drawing a blank, the man solved the mystery for me.
“I don’t expect you to remember me, it was a long time ago, it’s me, JT, you saved my life,” he said.
As soon as he said his name, it all came back to me. The case I could never forget. There he was, standing right in front of me, the young man who got sucked into the world of daring bank heists by a cunning, sociopathic, master manipulator. He looked good, but more importantly, he was wearing a company jacket with a logo on it that told me he was working for a living.
JT was proud to tell me the thirty minutes I spent with him during his arrest impacted him in a profound way. That once he did his time, he left the world of crime behind him, went to school and finished at the top of his class. Once he graduated, he put his diploma to good use. He secured a job with an international company, had completed over eight years of service, ascended to a leadership position and was a high income earner.
JT was living the Canadian dream.
The news warmed my soul.
While I don’t take much credit for this “good news” story, it’s nice that JT offered some. In reality, JT had to commit to changing his life, seize what opportunities were before him and work his ass off to get where he is today.
He did that all on his own.
“I think stories like mine can only help those that need to see there’s a way out of that world,” he said.
JT is right.
He’s a living example of what can happen when young men are presented with options and opportunities.
He’s also a good reminder that policing isn’t always just about kicking ass and taking names.
*JT is an alias used to protect the identity of the subject of this story.