Public security in Montreal train for baton use, hand-to-hand combat
Security officers in greater Montreal area don't have guns, but Quebec law gives them right to make arrests
For 28 years as a public security officer in Hampstead, Que., Michael Huculak says he has never had to use his weapon.
That weapon isn't a gun, however, because Huculak isn't technically a police officer, but his baton is deadly and he and his colleagues need to be certified to use one.
Possessing a retractable, steel baton is not prohibited in Canada — unless it's concealed — but if public security officers such as Huculak aren't properly certified, they risk exposing themselves and the cities that employ them to massive lawsuits if they ever injure anyone with it in the line of duty.
Citizens come to us for everything imaginable. We're like a small town police force.- Michael Huculak, Hampstead public security officer
Every year, Huculak and his fellow Hampstead officers take part in a one-day training course on how to use the 55-centimetre, steel baton as well as learning about hand-to-hand combat techniques and the use of handcuffs.
"If you handle (the baton) the wrong way you can seriously hurt someone," Huculak said during a break from a recent training session at the Hampstead community centre.
"It's a vital tool but, misused and in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous."
Huculak needing a weapon at all is due to Montreal's particular decentralized governing structure, where the city's official police force works in tandem with public security officers.
In addition to the City of Montreal, the island is home to about another 15 other cities that each have their own mayor and town council. Many of them also raise taxes to pay for their own public security forces.
Other large Canadian cities such as Toronto or Vancouver do not have public security officers and laws are enforced by police.
The right to use force
Security officers in the greater Montreal area do not have guns, but Quebec law gives them the right to make arrests — and use force — to prevent or stop crime as well as to enforce municipal bylaws.
During the baton training, officers are told to wear the weapon at a 45-degree angle on their waist so it doesn't dig into their ribs when they enter their patrol car.
They learn how to take out the weapon and conceal it quickly behind their arm and how to position themselves with a partner around a suspect to make an arrest.
Additionally, they learn to aim for the sciatic nerve, on the thigh a few inches above the knee.
"Never grab the baton with two hands and strike a person like you're using a baseball bat," says the trainer, who did not want to be identified. "That doesn't look good on YouTube."
Huculak said public security officers are closer to residents because regular police are often transferred from station to station across the city and don't have the opportunity to build a rapport with citizens.
"We very much represent what Hampstead is about," Huculak said. "Citizens come to us for everything imaginable. We're like a small town police force."
Evolving job description
Brent Roberts has been on Hampstead's force for 14 years. He said while he sometimes has to physically intervene with suspects, most of the time his job is about interacting with residents, some of whom he's known for most of their lives.
"We have kids we used to kick out of parks,'' he said. "Now they have homes here and their own kids. Seeing the development of the people over the years is very interesting.''
And while he recognizes the job hasn't yet put him into particularly risky situations, it could, he said.
He thinks governments should consider arming public security officers.
"I believe the world is changing,'' he said. "We live in a community that is mostly Jewish and fairly affluent. We have four synagogues in the community and if someone was to do something, unfortunately this would be a target area.''