Globeandmail.com

WELCOME TO HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIES
space
Here in Saskatoon, the police are vilified as racists who run
drunks out of town and leave them to freeze. But it is also home
to the nation's highest crime rate and a native population that
accounts for more than half of all arrests. What's it really like
to uphold the law in this ghetto? Let's spend 12 hours on patrol
with the cowboy and the Indian


space
By JOHN STACKHOUSE 
space
space
Saturday, November 3, 2001 – Print Edition, Page F2


The toughest cops on the Indian beat know what they will find even before they kick in the door. Hair Spray Jerry is there, slouched against a wall, and in the basement apartment's bedroom is his girlfriend, Diane, on a bare mattress, contorted in pain. Her face is bruised, her mouth badly swollen, her blood moist on the floor.

Diane is often in this state on "payday Friday," the day Saskatoon is flooded with welfare cheques and its jagged-edged native neighbourhood on the west side turns violent. "I called 911 because he was being a shit," she says as tears stream across her cuts.

Nearby sit a half-finished bottle of Extra Gold beer (9 per cent alcohol) and a 7-Eleven Big Gulp container. Constables Ernie Louttit and Dean Hoover know that it holds the last of the couple's preferred cocktail: one part hair spray to six parts water.

The scene makes their blood boil. They have helped Diane into an ambulance more times than they can recall. And they have spent just as many nights wrestling her wiry, 40-year-old boyfriend into cruisers and drunk tanks.

Jerry just did six months for assaulting Diane, adding to a record that covers more than half his life.

"Diane, I never hit ya," he shouts as he is led once again into the hall from the apartment.

As Louttit yanks Jerry's right arm behind his back and shoves him against the wall, he whispers one word: "Asshole." Then he begins to read the man his rights.

The big policeman has seen this act played out for as long as he can remember because he, like Hair Spray Jerry, is an Indian. While Louttit was growing up with a Cree father and francophone mother in a hard-drinking Northern Ontario railway town, Hoover, who raises horses and rides in rodeos on his days off, was watching his Mountie father chase Indians across northern Saskatchewan.

The two clearly are frustrated by another encounter with Jerry, and joke that they would like to do something different tonight, rather than take him downtown to the drunk tank. They are both fed up with it all -- with Indian women bloodied and bruised, with little children abandoned in the dead of night, with native organizations that want to handcuff the cops who are paid to keep the lid on a ghetto of chronic abuse.

But then Louttit stops himself, knowing better than to throw oil on a fire smouldering beneath this troubled Prairie city, where the largely white police force and fast-growing native population are struggling to come to terms with each other. He knows that even a native cop shouldn't joke about natives.

In recent years,
Saskatchewan's biggest city has come close to a racial explosion after allegations of rampant police abuse and police complaints that they cannot cope alone with a crime-ridden native community.

In February, 2000, a native man named Darrell Night accused the police of dumping him, while he was intoxicated, on the outskirts of town on a freezing cold night. Two officers, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen, were fired from the force in September after being found guilty of unlawful confinement. At a hearing this week, they asked to have a traditional community sentencing circle decide their punishment -- a request so bizarre that it prompted laughter in the courtroom and anger on the part of natives, who felt they were being mocked. The judge said he will rule on the request on Nov. 30.

But there seems to be no end to the friction between a largely non-native judicial system and aboriginal people, who account for about one-fifth of the local population -- and more than half of those arrested on a typical night.

Coroner's inquests are looking into the deaths last year of two native men who may have been abandoned like Night. Then there is the Melvin Bigsky case.

On April 27, an RCMP officer shot and killed Bigsky, a long-time criminal, when he rammed his vehicle into a police car and allegedly attacked the driver. Three weeks later, local police shot and killed another native man, Keldon McMillan, after he gunned down a police dog during an attempt to arrest him on weapons charges.

So strong is the community's antipathy that the city fired police chief, David Scott, last June in part to soothe growing public anger.

With Canada's highest crime rate last year, many residents blame an aboriginal population that they say can't cope with the transition from isolated reserves to a multicultural city, where universal laws and independent police and courts are supposed to prevail.

Many natives, on the other hand, believe that they are victims of a white majority that refuses to address their chronic social problems, except with the blunt end of a police force.

Valid or not, the accusations have sent a chill through Saskatoon's native population -- and through police ranks. In private, some members of the force say they are reluctant to respond to native calls.

"You have a segment of the population afraid of the police," says Mayor Jim Maddin, himself a former cop, "and a segment of the police afraid of the population."

Caught between
cultures, and responsible to both, Ernie Louttit and Dean Hoover lead Hair Spray Jerry to their cruiser and then help Diane to a waiting ambulance.

They are divided like their city, and perhaps their country, on how to deal with native crime and justice. Natives, who make up less than 3 per cent of the general population, account for 17 per cent of penitentiary inmates. In Saskatchewan, where 13 per cent of the population is aboriginal, they account for almost 70 per cent.

For Hoover, it is a question of law and order. If natives take up so many prison spots, it is because they commit so many crimes. Men like Hair Spray Jerry deserve to be in jail, he says.

For Louttit, however, the west side's epidemic of domestic assaults and harsh police responses is more complex. Each time he sees a native woman nursing her wounds on payday Friday, it brings back painful memories from his own childhood in a hard-drinking Northern Ontario town. Native groups that accuse the police of racial bias ignore the fact that "crime, at least where I work, is brown on brown," he says. The real victims are native women and children.

As the partners drive back to the police headquarters, they pass through a city that is divided by a river as well as by race.

On the east side of the North Saskatchewan, tree-lined streets rise through patrician neighbourhoods of brick homes and portable basketball nets, and beyond them wide boulevards, shopping malls and a university campus. The Indian quarter -- a Canadian Harlem on the Prairies -- sits on the west side, beyond the riverside trails, a few historical buildings and a modest downtown.

Louttit, at the wheel, takes 20th Avenue, a spacious boulevard of pawn shops, bingo halls and soup kitchens that bisects the west side. Down each side street, there are rows of tiny houses that might serve as double garages if they were located across the river. Here, they are home to five, 10, on some nights 15 people, many of them pumping their bodies full of intoxicants.

The Indian beat -- a square mile of reckless inebriation -- is the one staff sergeants like to give to Louttit and Hoover. As well as being tough, they are experienced enough to know when to pull the trigger and strong enough to wrestle just about anyone to the ground. They are also on a first-name basis with just about every gang leader, drug dealer, pimp and prostitute on the west side.

From their cruiser, they can point to dozens of native men they have busted and others they are watching for their next misstep, such as breaking curfew or violating parole, or a minor drinking or drug-related charge. These are what native groups refer to as "system-generated" crimes, the revolving door of justice that keeps thousands of native men perpetually in the penal system -- people like Hair Spray Jerry who land in jail almost every time they are in a fight.

Native groups believe that Canada's justice system treats them and alcohol the way the United States treats blacks and drugs. Just as a black man in Harlem goes to jail if caught with marijuana, they say, a native caught drunk in Saskatoon is punished when most non-natives in the same situation have their wrists slapped.

Craig Neurf, the police force's aboriginal liaison officer, says he understands the problem even though, like many of his colleagues, he admits to having known little about natives before joining the force.

But native cases -- usually based on complaints from other natives -- take up much of a crime fighter's time. Of the 45 young people arrested in the past week, Neurf can pick out 34 native names, most of them from the west-side native ghetto, where young men can safely assume that they will wind up in police custody one day. "An aboriginal kid in Saskatoon today stands a better chance of ending up in the criminal justice system than finishing high school," Neurf says.

A native antagonism toward "white" society is drilled into the minds of kids on the west side at the youngest age when a derelict uncle takes a swing at a cop or the police come crashing through the door to remove an intoxicated mother.

And it explodes during another call for Louttit and Hoover.

Summoned to a rundown house off 20th where an entire family has been drinking hair spray, the two cops find a shirtless man lying on the pavement, splattered in blood. He says a teenaged nephew hit him. Louttit is not surprised. The address is a regular call for them on Friday nights.

He also knows what is coming when he and his partner put on latex gloves to handle the bleeding man, who struggles to his feet and then takes a feeble swing at Louttit. The cop feigns a duck and laughs. The man's punch is as slow as his speech.

Once the man is in an ambulance, the cops move more cautiously to the back yard, warning that flying objects -- bottles usually -- could come from an open second-storey window. Instead, they find the injured man's sister and her 16-year-old son on the back steps, high on Pink Panther hair spray. People used to drink Listerine -- "Canadian rye," west-siders call it -- but ever since welfare payments were cut, they have switched to Pink Panther, which is cheaper and has a higher alcohol content. For a couple of dollars, hardened hair-spray drinkers are intoxicated for the night. Most other people would be dead.

Louttit tries to ask the woman and her son what happened, when a younger boy emerges on the balcony above them, challenging the cops to a fight. He also appears drunk. Louttit says he is 14.

The boy shouts that he wants to see a cop hit a native.

"You racist pig," he says, spitting at the police below.

"What ya doin', fuckin' pigs?" his brother, just feet away from Louttit and Hoover, shouts at the two cops as they step back, trying to avoid a confrontation.

"White shit," the 16-year-old continues. "Get out of here, you white motherfuckers."

The cops decide to leave the boys and their mother alone. Soon enough, they will all pass out and be a danger to no one but themselves. The only option would be to take them to the drunk tank, which is already filling with more dangerous types.

The nightly ritual of packing intoxicated natives into the drunk tank has become a sore point in the city's racial divide. But during the winter, the police are also accused of abusing natives by leaving them to their own consequences, often in unheated houses or yards.

The police have lobbied for a detox centre -- Saskatoon is the only city on the Prairies without one -- but so far the province and native groups have failed to agree on how to fund and manage it. They both want to manage it and Ottawa to pay for it. (The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations also wants a healing centre that could care for entire families.)

For now, the police send the most intoxicated people to the hospital, where it costs far more to keep them in an emergency ward for a night than it would in a detox centre.

As Louttit and Hoover return to their cruiser, the teenaged brothers throw an empty bottle on the sidewalk, spraying the pavement with glass, before hurling a few more insults about "white cops." They may be the only native ones on the west side unaware of who Louttit is.

Despite a policeman's look, including buzz cut and mustache, the 40-year-old is known along 20th Avenue as the Indians' cop. In police standoffs, murderers and armed robbers have called for him by name, demanding the right to surrender to Ernie. Prostitutes wave to him from barroom tables. On the road, he and the local Hells Angels boss nod to each other respectfully.

Louttit believes that he enjoys this rapport, not because he is Cree, but because he has a way with people. He cares about the women who are routinely beaten up, often visiting them on his day shifts to make sure that they feel safe. At 6 foot 3 and 200 pounds, he is also as hard as a hammer with anyone who tries to push him around, and he thinks that most of the west-side men respect him for it.

That was the way it always was in Oba, a tiny hamlet (population: 110) on the rail line south of Hearst, Ont., where he was born.

"It was a tough little town where everyone drank too much," he says. It also had too few people to worry much about race. Their Cree father refused to teach Louttit and his brother to speak his language, saying they should learn French instead. But their French-Canadian mother refused to co-operate, believing that French was a ticket to nowhere in Ontario.

Only after moving to Hearst for high school did the boys gain a different understanding of what it can mean to be native. Of the 1,200 students in their high school, only 23 were Indian, and they were placed in a special Indian class, which rarely attracted an enthusiastic teacher.

Louttit dropped out, got a job on the railway and, at 17, joined the military police, which sent him across Canada and overseas to Cyprus. But he realized he would not be promoted without knowing French. So in 1987, while he was based in Alberta, he quit for a job with the nearby Saskatoon police.

Back in civilian life, he was surprised to discover a "different" Prairie attitude toward natives. He heard the usual slurs about Indians, on the job and in his largely white neighbourhood. He also learned about such pastimes as "brooming," in which farm boys hang out of pickup trucks and swat unsuspecting (usually drunk) natives along 20th. The boy who knocks over the most Indians wins.

The western attitude, Louttit says during a break at an all-night truck stop, is "very tolerant yet very intolerant. It's very tolerant of government authority. Farmers are very intolerant of Indians."

Dean Hoover could be one of those farmers. With seven horses and weekend jaunts to rodeos around Saskatchewan, he's all cowboy.

The son of a career RCMP officer, Hoover grew up on the Prairies watching, and admiring, the way justice used to be carried out. He still thinks that a little strong arm -- and he has arms the size of a bull's leg -- can help to make a point.

He is not much of a talker anyway, leaving it to his partner to calm the hotheads and comfort the injured. "We're hired to take care of criminals," Hoover says. "It's that simple."

Louttit, who understands the social conditions of natives, agrees that there is only one way to deal with people -- and he is speaking of native men -- who commit crimes.

Sounding like a cop anywhere in North America, he says his first duty is to the people who want a safe city and pay his salary to ensure it.

"Bottom line is there will always be a criminal element in society and there will need to be police to keep them in check," he says. "When they're in jail, they're not doing it to anyone else. I don't have to feel collectively guilty, along with my family, because he's a bad guy."

In a year together, this is the first time Louttit and Hoover have talked about the philosophy of policing. Their partnership is restricted to work and their focus is always on the task at hand. Even now, they can't dwell on the issue as an urgent call comes from another house on the west side, this time at a party where some teens have started to fight.

When they get to the house, with a groomed yard that seems incongruous to the neighbourhood, they find a group of preppy blondes trying to calm down John, a big 16-year-old white boy who looks like he could be class valedictorian. Until he opens his mouth. He's ripped.

According to John, some natives started the fight after showing up uninvited. "Fuckin' Indians!" he shouts, suddenly pulling himself free from the girls. The police grab John and tell him to calm down. The girls, distressed at the downfall of their night, move to the back yard for a cigarette.

"They think they own the fuckin' place," John continues before blurting out, apparently unaware of Louttit's status, "Why don't you do somethin' about those fuckin' Indians?"

Hoover advises the girls to get John home because he and Louttit have another call. It takes them just a few blocks away. But it could be in another world.

At 3 a.m., seven hours into their shift, they arrive at a familiar address, a shed of a house belonging to a young mother named Judy. Tonight, Judy is drunk -- she's always drunk on weekends, Louttit says -- but she has another problem. Her brother, Keith, has just been released from a federal penitentiary and is crashed with his girlfriend in her basement.

Keith is the face of all those statistics on native justice. To aboriginal groups, he is a victim, the product of a dysfunctional reserve who ran into trouble young and has been in the revolving door of Canada's justice system ever since, with no opportunity for rehabilitation. To his sister, he is a Class A jerk.

Downstairs, Keith is refusing to leave, and threatening to beat up Judy if she tries to make him. The police move gingerly down a rickety staircase into the unlit cellar, where, using their flashlights, they find Keith and his girlfriend on a mattress. He co-operates as they escort him to the door.

Once Keith disappears down a back alley, Louttit tells Judy to keep the door locked, not that that will do much good. There's no glass in the kitchen window, just a hanging bed sheet that rustles in the early-morning breeze. This is how Keith got inside a few hours earlier, when Judy was out at a party and her four children were home alone. The youngest is 2 and the oldest is a 13-year-old girl, whom Louttit coaches on how to put her intoxicated mother to bed.

The girl announces, with a hint of pride in her voice, that she has done it before. She says she will also take care of the three younger ones, who are awake and in the living room, and get them breakfast in the morning, although it is not obvious what they will eat. The only food in sight is a half-filled box of cereal. The cupboards and fridge are bare.

Louttit can't help but think of his own four children, especially his daughter, who had her baseball pitching debut tonight. He missed the game, but plans to spend the weekend with her, as soon as his shift is over.

"We talk here about native problems. It's a parenting problem," he says, recalling the case of a 14-year-old boy who was to be released into the custody of his father. But the father refused to come for him. The boy was released anyway. Two days later, he was arrested for stealing bicycles.

"There's no quick solution," Louttit says, "other than to teach parents to be parents, and teach their children not to follow stereotypes."

Of course,
native stereotypes are to 20th Avenue what neon signs are to Las Vegas. There is the provincially owned liquor store, with its windows barricaded like an inner-city bank. And the provincial welfare office, the west side's main economic force and, in a horrible irony, the source of most of the liquor store's cash flow. Nearly one-third of Saskatoon -- 66,000 people in all -- relies on social assistance at some point during the year.

The stereotypes have not changed in years, but the economics behind them have. Saskatoon has precious few jobs for the west siders, so many able-bodied people have moved to Alberta and Ontario. For those left behind, welfare payments have been frozen for so long that a typical parent like Judy receives about $300 a month -- the same as what she would have received 20 years ago.

One consequence is that families have doubled up in the shoebox houses off 20th, while single people -- men mostly -- have been forced to trade apartments for rooming houses and, in Bobby Johnson's case, worse.

In a room above a Chinese restaurant on 20th, Bobby's existence seems to test a new wretched depth every time Louttit visits him. A loner, he drinks and watches television all day while he lies on a mattress in a puddle of his own urine and feces. The stench carries a whiff of death.

Whenever things turn quiet, Louttit parks his cruiser and climbs a staircase to the squalid room that looks abandoned by the society around him. "Hey, Bobby, how's it going?" he asks the withered, curled-up figure whose protruding bones are illuminated only by the flickering light of a late-night TV show.

Bobby mumbles a few words. Louttit engages him in some small talk, and then checks the room for fire hazards and food. Finding neither, he chats some more, providing the only human contact Johnson will have until his next expedition to the liquor store.

Every visit to this cesspool makes Louttit angry at his society, and his people. "You hear native groups say, 'We need this or we need that,' " he says bitterly. "Yeah, we need them to come down here and do something. We, as natives, need strong leadership, we need elected leadership, we need to take care of our own problems -- stop our own people from drinking and stop our own people from hurting each other."

No end of social agencies have tried to break the west side's vicious and unyielding cycle of welfare, drinking and jail. The Saskatoon Tribal Council has built a big community centre next to the bingo hall. Out on 20th Avenue, a posse of missionary groups runs soup kitchens, prayer clubs and clothing depots, as they have for years.

Every evening, the Hands On Ministry provides a haven for about 150 children, with games and a free loaf of bread to take home. When the ministry closes at 10 or 11, the kids, many of them preschoolers, can be seen walking home in small groups, their loaves tucked under their arms.

It's the sort of scene that infuriates many people impatient with the lack of progress, among them the police who keep having to arrest the kids' parents. "Police can get frustrated with an individual when they deal with him repeatedly, whether he's aboriginal or not -- the revolving door," Mayor Maddin says.

Would they go so far as to dump drunk people on the edge of town in sub-zero temperatures?

The mayor, remembering his policing days, admits that the infamous "starlight tours" aren't "an unknown phenomenon."

"It's happened. Should it happen? I don't think so. Will it happen again? I would hope not."

Another former cop offers a more hardened version of how this came to be. Early one evening, he sits down at a coffee shop and, on condition that his name not appear in print, describes how the force has allowed itself to be pushed around by native politicians -- the very ones, he feels, who defend male criminals and ignore their female victims.

Barely able to control his anger, he contends that most of the cops are fed up. "Do we hate Indians?" he asks bluntly. "No. Do we hate certain individuals who happen to be Indian? Yes."

He tells the story of a cold winter night when he entered a native household to find two parents passed out on the kitchen floor, with their year-old baby, clothed only in a diaper, sitting beside them crying. The door had been left wide open. It was about 20 below outside.

The cop called the province's child-protection agency for help. They refused to come. It was the middle of the night. He shouted down the phone line. Finally, someone arrived and took the child to safety -- for the night. The next day, the parents got their baby back.

"You get so mad you could kill someone," he says. "You could throttle someone -- because of the kids."

The former cop says he knows the men charged in the "starlight tours" case, and how frustrated they were with Darrell Night, a regular at the drunk tank. Same goes, he says, for Melvyn Bigsky, the 33-year-old shot dead after allegedly ramming the police cruiser. "He hated cops."

Bigsky had a long criminal record, and once escaped from prison in Drumheller, Alta., while serving a term for manslaughter (he had killed a cousin during a drinking party in Saskatoon by stomping on his chest). Cops across northern Saskatchewan knew about him, including Hoover, who picked him up so often that the two were on a first-name basis. On one occasion, he says, Bigsky suddenly began to bash his head into the grate that separates front seat from back in a cruiser.

Apparently, his plan was to inflict injuries he could blame on police abuse. Hoover remembers Bigsky bellowing, "I'm going to fuckin' kill you," through the grate. At which point, he says, he turned around, stared back at Bigsky and replied, "You know, one day, someone's gonna kill you."

In a poor
and polarized province, some native leaders believe that the police have become the blunt stick of a racist white majority that sees its future threatened. Two generations from now, if recent trends of a high native birth rate and a white exodus continue, half of Saskatchewan's population will be aboriginal.

Perhaps not surprisingly, right-wing political parties are gaining ground in a province that was once a socialist bastion by vowing to tax natives, crack down on crime and fight their special status. But the real fight is on the street, in schools and in workplaces, where two peoples -- long separated in the same province -- are trying to find common ground.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a provincial court judge, understands the bigotry. A leading advocate for rehabilitation programs in place of many jail sentences, the native woman once got a letter calling her "an Indian bitch" for allegedly being lenient on an aboriginal defendant.

Her husband, George Lafond, elected chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, worries that the racial fissure may be getting too deep to repair.

Lafond is not cut from the same cloth of most native leaders in Saskatchewan. He is a pinstriped native who drives a Jeep, lives in a largely white neighbourhood on the east side of the river and has a small statue of his boyhood hero, John Diefenbaker, in his well-appointed office.

A Red Tory, he believes that the divisions stem from both the province's economic decline and Ottawa's preference to deal with natives on their reserves, rather than in cities. The province's natives used to be pretty much ignored, left to their reserves and cared for by the federal government.

But as they began to stream into cities, in the 1970s and 1980s, the province was told to care for them, with schools, health care, welfare. And police. This was at a time when Saskatchewan was in steep decline, with its agriculture base and federal transfer payments both in question.

One result was fewer public services for natives, which angered Indian groups. Another was fewer public services for the rest of the population, which angered non-native groups just the same.

By the 1990s, white kids were leaving the province in droves. And those who stayed behind -- the broom-wielding farm kids, for instance -- were as alienated as natives. Despite the social ravages of Saskatoon's west side, they saw aboriginal people getting a special deal at every turn, whether on taxes, university entrance quotas or softer penalties for crime.

No group has yet to bring the two solitudes together.

"What I fear is that if you vacate the middle ground," Lafond says, "extremists will fill it."

If middle ground is to be reclaimed, he believes more than new money will be needed. He, and many natives, would like to see the justice system reformed.

For one, he says, police should stop treating self-inflicted abuse -- most commonly drinking and drugs -- as crimes that merit formal charges. They also should break the cycle of jail, parole and rearrest, he says, by trying new ways to rehabilitate offenders.

Some attempts have been made at what's called "restorative justice," a traditional native approach that seeks to heal wrongdoers within their communities rather than isolating and punishing them. But the concept has sparked more skeptics than supporters -- Louttit says that, in his experience, repeat offenders plead for native sentencing circles and community-based rehabilitation only so they can get back to a life of crime and violence as quickly as possible.

Lafond is aware of such beliefs, among natives and whites. He has struggled to maintain a conciliatory line through the recent wave of troubles. He believes that his council's relationship with the police kept the city from exploding last year when the Darrell Night case went public. He also believes that it is changing the police force, for the better.

Lawrence Joseph disagrees.

If Lafond is a conciliator, Joseph, vice-chairman of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, is a hard-liner, the Al Sharpton of Saskatoon politics, a minority leader who seems to want to inflame racial divisions every time controversy emerges. Confrontation, and at times conflict, are his tools.

To him, just about every problem for his province's natives is the result of a white conspiracy, and just about every offer made to natives is not good enough. He talks of "token Indians" and "piecemeal" measures, and cultural-sensitivity programs that he considers "a joke." (Of the police force, he says: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks.")

Despite Joseph's tirades, which many police officers believe led to their chief being fired, the force says it has tried to change its personnel and its culture. Of its 328 staff, 35 are native -- about the same proportion as Saskatoon's resident population. Moreover, 18 of the 94 constables hired since 1996 are native, although none speaks a native language fluently or has strong ties to the local native community.

Recruiting young natives isn't easy, says Neurf, the force's aboriginal liaison officer. They tend to see the police as "the enemy."

Making a difficult situation worse, Saskatoon must compete with the RCMP and every other police force in Western Canada, and do so with a meagre budget. The Calgary police force recently toured reserves in northern Saskatchewan, offering recruits 10 per cent more pay than they would get in Saskatoon, on top of Alberta's lower tax rate.

Still, there are signs of progress. In September, the police placed a full-time officer in Saskatoon's only aboriginal high school. Next year, the force hopes to get funds for a native elder to work with him.

Senior officers are also attending powwows, feasts and sweat-lodge ceremonies, and in the summer going on biking and canoe trips with native youths and members of the Saskatoon Tribal Council. And the force is working with social agencies to help the most vulnerable urban Indians -- girl prostitutes -- to get off the street by arranging housing and jobs for them.

Bill Egadz, a Métis and former street kid who now runs his own youth agency on the west side, says the police may be the least of the problems he sees. When the cops rough up kids, he says, they do so regardless of colour -- and usually, he adds, with good reason. "We've never had a kid come back and say they were crapped all over because they were native."

Shortly after
first light, when the last of the parties has ended and even the most hardened drinkers cannot lift themselves from the floor, Louttit and Hoover return to the police headquarters for another cup of coffee. It's their second break in nine hours, and they still have three hours to go.

After parking in the underground lot, they stand in front of a camera and the dispatcher upstairs sends down an elevator to whisk them up to the interrogation rooms and drunk tank. Each cell, the size of a small household washroom, is filled with the likes of Hair Spray Jerry, who is fast asleep on a cot. The only other object in his cell is an aluminum toilet.

There are 20 men and one woman in the drunk tank and, judging by the names, 16 are native. Louttit and Hoover have booked 11 of them -- an average night, they say, perhaps even a bit slow for a payday Friday.

The big Cree cop shrugs as he takes a coffee and sits down in the staff room. The criticisms, he has just about heard them all: that he's an "apple" (red outside, white inside) and arrests Indians to please the white folk across the river, perhaps even to protect his own suburban lifestyle.

"Here's the bottom line on race," he says. "When someone calls the police, they want the police and they need the police. When we get there, they're happy we're there. Policing by its very nature means force because you're making people comply. You're designated by the society that hires you to keep the peace."

This is Ernie Louttit's calling; he hopes that it will keep him on the street, and on the west side, for years. The thrill of a chase, the joy in helping his society's victims -- for him, no other job will do.

Dean Hoover is not so sure. He has applied for a position on the drug squad, where he can do more sleuthing and work better hours.

In the weeks ahead, he will get his transfer. As well, Jerry and Diane will reconcile yet again. She will refuse to testify and the charges against him will be dropped.

Bobby Johnson, the hermit, will pass away and be found on his mattress in front of the TV. Judy and her four kids will move to a new house and her brother Keith will wind up back in jail accused of aggravated assault and attempted murder. He was charged after a man opened fire on a barroom crowd. Louttit was on duty just a few blocks away, and got to the scene in time to wrestle the shooter to the ground.

But for now, the toughest pair on the Indian beat are just trying to get through the night.

When daylight comes and his shift is over, Louttit will head home, go for a run to clear his mind and then, after some sleep, play with his kids. He is eager to help his daughter with her pitching.

Hoover also will go home for some sleep before heading to a rodeo competition south of the city. He won't think much about the images of another Friday-night shift, of Hair Spray Jerry or big drunk John, the 16-year-old Indian baiter.

At the end of their 12-hour shift, he and Louttit go their separate ways, knowing that they have done their job.

If they are lucky, they will get to spend the remaining hours finishing off a pile of paperwork. But another call from the west side comes in and, even though it's not their turn, the dispatcher assigns it to Louttit and Hoover. She has been told that there might be trouble.

As the sun comes up over Saskatoon, the two men check their revolvers, adjust their bullet-proof jackets and head for the elevator, where, for a moment, they stand and listen to a shrill solitary cry from the drunk tank.

"Let me out," the voice calls. "NOW!"


Copyright © 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.