For the past 20 years, Sgt. Jack West’s internal clock has awoken him at 3.45 a.m., signifying that it was time to prepare for his early morning shift.
He deeply cherishes every moment of the 40 years he spent on the job as a Toronto Police officer and is proud of the five separate editions of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act reference guides he’s authored to ensure officers know the rules of the road.
Those numbers matter to him. But, as he left the Service on Jan. 17 after four decades on the job, the only number that he was looking forward to was 82, the temperature in Florida.
The morning after turning in his badge, West will hit the road, driving for the sunshine state where he will spend the next three months. Looking through the rear-view mirror, he would most likely feel a sense of pride and satisfaction on his long and distinguished policing career.
New unit commander Supt. Bill Wardle, Insp. Mark Barkley and colleagues at 54 Division bade West – considered an expert when it comes to road safety in the city – a fond farewell on his last day.
“When I was the unit commander at the Mounted Unit, Jack ran a number of programs in this Division,” Wardle said. “The Mounted Unit attended and assisted with the enforcement details and I was really impressed with the way he organized them. He would have victims and other police services attend and he would use the horses, which provide that high visibility for the community.”
Barkley met West in 1997, when he was assigned to the Special Investigations Services Auto Squad and wanted to educate officers about fraud and international theft.
“We put in a call to the college and got hold of Jack, who was teaching a few courses. He told me the guys that he trained on Traffic dealt a lot with cars and maybe it would be a good idea for them to learn how to spot stolen cars and learn about re-VINing (Vehicle Identification Number) and spread that knowledge among the Traffic officers.
“He then allocated time for us to come up from Special Investigations and gave a lecture to these officers and helped spread the word and the knowledge. So he was already seeing value and he understood that the role of Traffic officers wasn’t simply to go out and do traffic enforcement. You are a frontline police officer and he saw it as that. He believed in empowering officers to be the very best they can, so they could give the absolutely best service to the community. That was what he was all about.”
He believed in empowering officers to be the very best they can, so they could give the absolutely best service to the community
At age 11, West told a neighbour he was going to be a police officer.
He fulfilled that goal in 1974, after spending three years in the Loblaws advertising department, starting his policing career in 22 Division as a frontline officer responding to radio calls.
West, 62, vividly remembers his first few months on the job.
“We walked the beat more than we do today, and I can remember my sergeant saying, ‘West, you are walking Bloor St.’ It was the midnight shift and it seemed like I was working the coldest nights that winter. My job was to check the alleys and every doorway and you didn’t want to discover there was an insecure property first thing in the morning because that was my responsibility. I could hear the snow crunching under my boots and I felt like I was the only man in the world. That’s the way we did policing back then.”
After three years at 22 Division, West was assigned to the Traffic Office, followed by the Fraud Squad, the Youth Bureau, plainclothes and Two Traffic before going to 21 Division (now part of 22 Division) to walk the beat along Lake Shore Blvd. W.
While working in that Division, West was involved two incidents where police exchanged fire with suspects.
“My job was to walk the Lake Shore motel strip area,” he recalled. “There were 18 motels there, which was my responsibility. That was an interesting part of my career because there were disputes, drugs, prostitution and removing hold-up men from rooms.”
In one incident, 23 years ago, two of West’s fellow officers spotted an expensive Porsche in the Rainbow Motel parking lot, which piqued their interest. When the officers went to talk with the car owner, who was in a hotel room, they were greeted with gunfire.
“The door suddenly swung open and there were two individuals shooting at the officers,” recounted West. “They went for cover and called for assistance. I wasn’t far away. There were 413 shots fired out of that room at the police and that ordeal lasted for about a day-and-a-half.”
With help from the Emergency Task Force , the men were taken into custody.
West arrested one of the two suspects. While searching him, he found a motel room key that eventually tied the suspects to a double murder in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
West was involved in another shooting, in the same neighbourhood, a few years later. It started when he and his partner followed two suspects in a stolen van.
“I was in plainclothes, and they moved quickly into a dark parking lot,” West said. “The driver exited the van, took a shot back at us and disappeared into the woods.”
West arrested a woman, a passenger in the car, and found a key on her that led him to a motel to where he thought the outstanding suspect would return. He was right. That motel was the scene of yet another shooting.
After police returned fire and shot the suspect with a 12-gauge shotgun, West jumped on top of him to secure him.
“He was yelling at me,” West remembered. “I discovered that he had a stolen bulletproof vest and he was wearing two coats. The experience taught me that you do not judge a book by its cover. He was a very short man, about 120 pounds, and by looking at him physically, I would never think he had the capabilities he did.”
West spent the last six years at 54 Division.
During that time, he organized cycling safety campaigns and concentrated efforts in his Division to get the word out that police are serious about cyclists and drivers who break the law. He also conceived the idea for some of the city’s professional sports teams and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Toronto chapter to reward sober drivers during Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) campaigns with game tickets and ribbons respectively.
“As a Divisional commander, I see that Division under Jack’s leadership as one of the most progressive and effective traffic programs,” said Deputy Chief Peter Sloly. “I first met Jack when I was a young constable at the college in 1995, when he was then the traffic expert. He’s an old-school cop with great credibility who has been there and done that. He’s one of the few tweeting Sgts. and I like that. The fact that he could embrace technology and new ways to engage and educate the community says everything you need to know about Jack.”
Five years ago, West organized the first-ever joint police services RIDE; a year later, he collaborated with the City of Toronto By-Law Enforcement Unit to conduct taxi-safety inspections. In October 2009, he engaged Ministry of Transportation and Environment representatives for a heavy-truck safety inspection blitz. Of the 138 trucks inspected, six were removed from service for safety reasons and 47 drivers were issued provincial offences notices.
West’s accomplishments are many and varied.
In addition to being a mentor to countless officers and former Humber College Police Foundations Program lecturer, he developed and coordinated the Traffic Investigator’s seminar that became an annual event, submitted published articles to the Ontario Traffic Conference magazine, conducted research for the province’s Ministry of Transportation and championed a legislative amendment to make the use of helmets by people riding power-assisted bicycles on highways mandatory.
His efforts led to the creation of a section under the HTA and he joined then-Minister of Transportation Donna Cansfield at Queen’s Park in 2006 to announce the new legislation.
A few years ago, when West realized that several officers did not fully grasp the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) that regulates the licensing of vehicles, classification of traffic offences and vehicles, administration of loads and other transport-related issues, he wrote a 1,100-page book – Ontario Highway Traffic Act Law Enforcement Edition -- first published by Carswell in 2008.
The book, which has been updated every year, provides a focus on evidence for police officers, paralegals, Justices of the Peace and lawyers. Included is a comprehensive quick reference guide to the most common HTA offences , the full text of the HTA with relevant regulations and the first-ever quick-reference guide for points to consider that clarify what is needed to assist in the prosecution of HTA offences.
The latest edition contains 1,300 pages.
In retirement, West plans to spend quality time with his family and golf.
“I enjoyed working with the Service for the last 40 days and now is the right time to leave,” he said. “Policing is not just about enforcing laws. This is a people business and I have enjoyed working with the community and gaining their trust. About 20 years ago, there was a drug store on Lake Shore that held a birthday party for me and community residents came out. To me, that was the best community-based policing reward you could receive. That’s what it’s all about.”
West has received many honours, including the Toronto Police Merit Mark Award for helping to apprehend the suspect wearing a stolen bulletproof vest who had been involved in a series of armed robberies, and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) Lifetime Achievement in Traffic Safety Award presented to an Ontario officer for excellence in traffic education, education, innovation and community engagement.