Over the past 2 years I’ve been fortunate enough to experience something very unique. In the context of my work on the English version of ‘ 19-2 ‘, for which production first began in September 2013, I was granted the opportunity to accompany Montreal police officers on patrol. I accompanied them on the job on 3 separate occasions, in 3 different precincts in the city. These ‘ride alongs’ are commonly referred to as ‘cobras’. The aim of these experiences was invariably to better understand what the lives of SPVM police officers are like on a day to day basis in order to help in the creation of my character on the show.
My first ride along happened in October 2013 with agents Mario Grégoire and Pascal Proulx of Montreal’s 22nd Precinct. I accompanied them on a 3:30pm to 11pm shift, an evening patrol of their sector. I told myself when I arrived at the station that I would try to be as observant as possible without interfering or talking to them too much. I wanted to try and understand their job through osmosis rather than by asking them too many questions and disrupting their routine. I hoped I could get a sense of their professional pace, from their mannerisms and work habits to their personalities and all the challenges they face regularly in the line of duty. Following my formal ride along request, our 19-2 on set adviser from the SPVM that year, Sergeant Laurent Gingras, granted me permission and made arrangements for the 22nd precinct to introduce me to some of their officers. It’s important to highlight here that our production always has SPVM consultants on set to help ensure that our rituals and portrayals in uniform are as true to life as possible. Right from the very beginning, we have received and continue to receive training with the Montreal police:
But I wanted to learn everything I could from them, to go out with them on the job. We’re meticulously guided by our director on set, by our producers and scriptwriters. A whole extraordinary production team supports us at all times when we’re shooting and when they work with us, our SPVM advisers are an important part of that team. But I wanted to follow them, to bridge my own professional context into theirs, to experience their world, their pace and what their profession means to them.
Upon arrival at the precinct, Sergeant Alain Plante greeted me, guided me into that shift’s ‘fall in’ meeting and introduced me to the police officers on duty that evening. Following that briefing, officers Mario and Pascal took me under their wing for an 8 hour patrol of the streets of our city. Several different calls came in that night, some more serious than others. Out of respect and the ultimate right to privacy I am obviously not at liberty to discuss the victims and calls we encountered. But it’s safe to say that fear and anxiety often tightened my chest throughout the shift…sadness and confusion rising up despite my best efforts to remain objective while Mario and Pascal navigated these troubled waters with an innate mixture of professional detachment and humanity. We collaborated with paramedics on a particular call, which led to a lively discussion about the collaboration and regular exchanges that must naturally occur between the SPVM, Urgence Santé and the city’s fire department. I sat in the backseat, watching them talk, the way they seemed to be able to discuss things without their gaze ever leaving the sidewalks, facades of buildings, alleyways, pedestrians, crowds, other vehicles on the road… this ability they had of seeing everything around them and their surroundings without ever necessarily doing it consciously. And then there were other moments when their voices would suddenly die down in unison, eyes clocking a given event across the street. They would then quickly pull over and exit the cruiser. I followed as fast as I could, often wondering what they had seen as I scrambled out to keep up, my own reflexes lagging heavily. I watched them adjust to every given situation, their tactics and stance shifting in response to the level of danger they were facing. I watched their humanity harden too, drain out of their faces out of necessity. I honestly felt as much admiration as reticence towards them in those moments. And in fact those were ultimately key moments of character study for me because they helped me understand how much Mario and Pascal had to psychologically and physically protect themselves and others while on patrol. I also realized at the end of that shift that I’d accompanied two cops, two men, who genuinely and passionately love their job and take it extremely seriously.
In any given profession, that level of commitment is a rare thing. It just isn’t the norm. And I feel it’s important to mention this fact now given that the police uniform is liable to conjure up as much relief as it does annoyance with Montrealers these days. So thank you Mario and thank you Pascal for sharing so much of your work and of yourselves with me that Friday. I ended up spending most of the night hunched forward between you in the front seat, unable to stay in the back seat because your level of personal and professional engagement is inclusive and as such attracts the same out of others. You love what you do and clearly chose your line of work because you wanted to serve and protect. So thank you again, and I hope my portrayal and work on 19-2 in part reflects this kind of commitment and speaks to the nuanced humanity, as imperfect and difficult as it is, that inhabits all of us every day of our lives.
My second ride along happened at the 7th Precinct with officers Stéphanie Guérin and Charles ‘Chuck’ Masson in July 2014. This time it was sergeant Simon who welcomed me to the station. They guided me through a visit of their offices, the meeting rooms, locker rooms, detention cells and took me through a policeman’s full routine before and after his patrol. After this tour and because of the fact that I was anxious about some particular scenes I was preparing to shoot the following week on set, I had very specific questions about the handling of firearms and the protocols one should follow in a given crisis. Sergeant Simon, Stéphanie and Charles answered all of my questions with very detailed accounts and even helped me prepare by testing my understanding of certain situations a police officer has to face when firearms are involved on the job. I then thanked sergeant Simon and followed Stéphanie and Charles to their vehicle outside. It was time to start their shift. After a few preparations we hit the road and started their patrol of the neighbourhood.
They received several calls that day. Once again we collaborated with paramedics on an unfortunately serious residential call. I watched as Charles and Stéphanie assisted each other and collaborated with one another. More specifically, I paid particular attention to the specific nature of the exchanges between a policeman and a policewoman. After all, the reality of my character in 19-2, Beatrice Hamelin, is mostly spent rubbing shoulders with her male colleagues.
I watched Stéphanie. How she behaved individually and then in partnership with Charles. Who intervened when? How? Was there a different approach from one or the other? Who stepped forward first in a given situation and why. I listened to their exchanges at the wheel, at times light and at others extremely determined when a given call came in. I recognized a lot of aspects in Charles and Stéphanie’s partnership that I’d noticed between Mario and Pascal and I again learned so much that day about the subtleties and demands of the job. So I also want to thank Stéphanie and Charles today for taking me under their wing that day. You both taught me a lot and I hope I make you both proud in my portrayal of your profession on screen.
My third and most recent experience on the job with the SPVM happened this past September 2014. I met officer Yannick Ouimet on set one afternoon. He was hired by production and assigned by the SPVM that day as our official on set adviser. I don’t remember exactly what I asked him during a particular scene we were shooting. The police officers we work with always take our questions very seriously and respond with the most detailed and constructive answers they are capable of giving. Always patient, specific and generous, they make a concerted effort to coach our cast and crew on this or that aspect of their job. So I asked Yannick a question that afternoon that just happened to lead to a discussion about his own career path to date. As soon as he said, ‘I now work in the nautical division of the SPVM‘, my ears perked up. ‘The nautical division? What division is that exactly?’ I asked him. ‘We patrol the St Lawrence River on the water by boat, basically all along the shores of the Montreal area’ he replied. I couldn’t help asking him right then and there if it would be possible for me to accompany them during such a patrol one day. He asked his superiors and the following week, after the necessary approvals were granted, I had the opportunity to join him and his colleagues on their boat moored to the docks in the Old Port of Montreal.
Did you know that this nautical division patrols over 269 km of shoreline around the island of Montreal? I was astounded to find that out. All the maritime traffic that passes through the St. Lawrence River and the eastern part of the Prairies River, Lake St. Louis and the Lachine canal and finally the Lake of Two Mountains and the western part of the Prairies River is monitored by the SPVM in collaboration with the Coast Guard and the Securité du Quebec. This is a huge area to cover. I stayed on the water with them for just over 6 hours and noticed that many of the same reflexes and training that guide road patrolmen and women seem to, for the most part, apply on the water too. The situations and calls we encountered that afternoon led to questions, guidelines, protocols and behavior from the nautical patrol squad that were in fact very similar to those applied by the officers who patrol the streets of our city.
Saying goodbye to them on the dock that day I asked myself if I was going to be able to use what I’d learned with them on the water in my work on set. After all, it really is another world out there on the water. But what I realized in the end is that all the interactions I’d observed, the behaviors, the different personalities and most importantly all the personal anecdotes Yannick and his fellow patrolmen candidly shared with me would invariably enrich my own acting choices when I put on the uniform at work. I would therefore finally like to also thank you today Yannick, you and your fellow officers, for allowing me onto your boat and sharing with me your experiences and perspectives on what it really means to be a police officer.
Our scriptwriters on ‘ 19-2′ conduct their own extensive research and work very closely with the SPVM to develop our characters and spend a lot of time on the job with police officers. Claude Legault and Real Bossé, the creators of the original French version of our show, Radio Canada’s ‘19-2’, spent more than 5 years of their lives rubbing shoulders with the police officers of the SPVM in order to be able to create the rich characters and ultra realistic circumstances that we now see on screen.
So once again, thank you Mario and Pascal, Stéphanie and Charles, and Yannick, for allowing me into your world, your precincts, vehicles, in the streets and on the water. Thank you for sharing your work with me and thank you especially for choosing to serve and protect your fellow Montrealers.
Season 2 of ’19-2′ premieres today Monday, January 19th 2015 at 10pm on Bravo Canada.
Site Officiel: http://www.bravo.ca/Shows/19-2
Season 2 trailer and teaser: