Sandy Harrison

Const. Sandy Harrison, seen here celebrating his 70th birthday, has hit the 50-year mark as a police officer. (Niagara Regional Police)

In 1968, armed with a nightstick and a $62.50 weekly paycheque, Const. Sandy Harrison started walking his beat in Welland for the first time as a police officer.

Now, at 70-years-old, he is hitting a major milestone today as he enters his 50th year in policing — still as a constable, with Niagara Regional Police.

"A lot of people start at the bottom and aspire to the top. I'm happy where I am. You finish as a beat cop, you progress, and you move into an office. I don't like offices," Harrison told CBC News.

"It doesn't matter what job you have, you could be a garbage man. If you enjoy it, keep on doing it."

'I walked the beat in Welland and now I'm back in Welland. The full circle.' - Const. Sandy Harrison

Things were much different back when he started out.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's late father Pierre had just been elected prime minister for the first time. Gas was sold by the gallon, but sold for what would be just under eight cents a litre.

Niagara Regional Police didn't even exist yet in 1968, when Harrison, a Winnipeg native, saw an ad in the newspaper. Welland City Police (as it was known pre-amalgamation) was looking for officers.

"I answered it — that was on the 14th of November, the day before my birthday. I got hired on the 21st of November," he said.

There wasn't nearly as much formal training at the time. "It was more in-house training. The older cops taught you — and of course, going to the police college in Aylmer," he said.

Walking the beat

There weren't many officers, either. There were only 14 cops working in Welland back then, communicating over some extremely scratchy radios. "It made a better nightstick than a radio," Harrison said.

For two years, he walked the beat in Welland, meeting people. It took two years of foot patrols to get a cruiser, and if you got in an accident, you walked the beat for another two years, he said. "We just didn't have many cars."

Niagara Regional Police

Harrison originally worked for Welland police, which then folded in to Niagara Regional Police. (The Canadian Press/Francis Vachon)

"They gave you a nightstick, years ago, and that was it. You talked your way out of fights — now, you've got the Taser. But still, you've gotta talk to people.

"Some people don't have both oars in the water, and you still talk to them. You try to help them out, try to find them some sort of assistance, either through a doctor, the local priest or friends."

Through the decades, he saw the highs and lows of policing. Meeting and helping people was always at the core of what kept him going through the hardships that pepper a career like policing.

A lot of sudden deaths stayed with him, especially stillborn children and young people. As did car crashes where the victim was someone he knew, which was all too common in a smaller community like Welland, decades ago.

Telling someone that a loved one is gone never really gets easier, he says.

"Most people still have a family, whether it's wives or their kids," he said. "You talk to them, explained what happened, or try the best you could."

Coming full circle

Now, in the twilight of his career, Harrison works as an officer in the Welland courthouse, providing security and swearing in documents. Before that he worked at police headquarters for a decade, with stops in Port Colborne, Fort Erie, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

"I walked the beat in Welland and now I'm back in Welland," he said. "The full circle."

Harrison says this might very well be his last year as a police officer before hanging up the badge for good. "I don't want any more interviews, no more pictures, no more fame. At a certain age, you get enough," he said.

He doesn't have much family left, he says, and no children. So what's next for someone who's favourite part of five decades of policing was meeting and helping people?

"Maybe enjoying my life by becoming a Wal-Mart greeter," Harrison said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca