At a well-kept home on a quiet tree-lined street in Newton, Wayne Ryan remembers seeing the bunches of balloons hanging inside the house, which was decorated with various ribbons and signs celebrating the birthday of a six-year-old girl.
There was an upright vacuum cleaner in the kitchen and the body of a young mother was laying on the floor.
As he made his way to the second floor of the house, Ryan followed a small trail of blood that ended at a closed bedroom door. Opening the door, he remembers seeing a young girl wearing a beautiful party dress lying face up in the middle of her room. She had been stabbed multiple times – so hard the knife handle had left an imprint in her chest.
The images from that day are indelibly imprinted in Ryan’s mind, making him unable to attend a birthday party to this day without reliving the visions.
Ryan is a 19-year veteran of the Surrey RCMP and yet the memories from that day have never faded.
Following the arrest of the murderer – a family friend of the victims – Ryan’s job was to pick him up in Coquitlam and bring him to Surrey for a full interview.
“I had many years as a hostage negotiator and interviewer, but I lost it that day. I had to use every ounce of energy to leave the interview room” after the suspect showed no remorse, Ryan said. “I could have probably executed him and gone for dinner that night feeling no remorse myself. That was a failure on my part. That really affected me. You learn you’re human.”
After having a small article published in the RCMP Veterans’ Association newsletter about life as a police officer, Ryan decided he wanted to tell some of the real life stories about working in law enforcement and the emotional toll it often takes on members and their families.
Souls Behind the Badge is an emotional and often raw account of life wearing the uniform of Canada’s national police force.
“I wanted to put a human face to the uniform,” Ryan said, “to write about the human aspect of policing and the effect some of the things have on officers.”
Police officers are expected to guard their feelings on the job, and many find the transition between work and home life quite difficult.
Referring to actual cases, Ryan guides the reader through many of his own experiences as well as those of his colleagues.
“In the book I try to talk about the emotional, professional and personal challenges of policing and I try to use real-life police stories to support that,” he said.
Dispelling the Hollywood view of policing was challenging.
“The public has this perception of not only what they think the police are like, but what they want them to be,” said Ryan, adding the scrutiny can be extreme.
“I always tell people, ‘everything you say and do as a police officer, expect it to be on the six o’clock news’.”
Keeping the peace has always been a priority for Ryan, “but some laws just have to be (enforced),” he said.
Maintaining an even keel is paramount.
In one shift an officer may find himself having to inform the parents of a 17-year-old girl that their daughter has just been killed by a drunk driver, and then a few hours later, he is arresting an impaired driver at the roadside. Emotions can’t take over, Ryan said.
“I’ll often look back at some of my own failures and say I didn’t handle that the best way.”
Ryan said all RCMP officers are going to have bad days.
“It’s just the law of averages. But does that mean the whole system is broken? No.”
One of the goals of writing his book was to inform those thinking about a career in policing about the realities of the profession and to help families understand what their loved ones deal with.
“It’s a great career if you go into it with the right attitude,” Ryan said. “You need the physical capabilities of a young person with the wisdom of a senior.”
For more information about Souls Behind the Badge visit www.wayneryanbook.ca