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The thin blue line just got thinner

An ex-cop's tribute to Peter O'Kane

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Peter O'Kane was a rare and unique human being.

I first heard of Pete when he joined the police force almost 20 years ago. An escalating labour dispute, some mouthpiece shooting off his gate and a little overhand right. It was the perfect start to launch Pete's career in law enforcement.

If I had to pick one phrase to describe the Peter O'Kane that I knew, it would be "old school."

Pete was built for the job.

He had the hard-nosed belief that the streets of Winnipeg belonged to him and not the criminal scumbags that preyed on our vulnerable citizens.

Pete was the quintessential "sheepdog" protecting the sheep from the wolf.

Most cops will know what I'm talking about.

The mindset of a hard-nosed street cop is perfectly expressed by Lt.-Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. army (retired), an internationally recognized scholar, author, soldier, speaker and expert on human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime.

"If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath -- a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed."

If you've never heard it before, you should follow the link. It will help you understand the essence of Peter O'Kane:

In 2005, I was promoted to the rank of sergeant and transferred to general patrol in Division 11, downtown Winnipeg, to run the A3 Platoon.

When I took the job, my first priority was to "team build."

It was during this time that Pete approached me looking for a spot on my shift. My initial reaction could best be described as uncertain. I didn't know Pete very well at this point and I had concerns about this "cowboy" who always seemed to be in or around "the s ."

After doing a little research and receiving overwhelming endorsements, the choice became clear. Pete was a "gem" they told me and I'd be nuts if I didn't take him.

So I drafted him and never regretted it.

Pete's work ethic, commitment and dedication to the job was second to none. A guy who was always at work a minimum of half an hour before the shift started. There he was, doing his thing, getting organized, doing computer checks and talking s to the officers on the other shifts.

It always amazed me how Pete would call me and tell me he was running late only to show up 20 minutes before shift start. To Pete, that was late. I used to tell him that he didn't have to call me when he was going to be in late, not when his late was still early, but the message never got through, he always called anyway. He was stubborn that way.

Pete brought a lot to the table. He was a dream cop for a supervisor. I used to love how he would bust the balls of the young cops who would stroll into the shift briefings late or just seconds before the scheduled start time.

It was a thing of beauty.

Up one side and down the other, poor defenseless rookies getting their asses kicked by Pete for their lack of commitment to the job. The supervisors sitting mute, no need to address the issues, not when Pete O'Kane was in the house.

No one could tell a story quite like Pete. He regaled us at every shift briefing with his unique sense of humour injected into every tale.

I had a great bond with Pete.

My heroes growing up were Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard.

I was a huge boxing fan, as was my father and brothers. We loved to train, spar and knock each other senseless. It was a natural connection for us.

I remember when Pete came into my office and got on the computer to show me a YouTube video of one of his fights on ESPN. After a couple of minutes, I diagnosed Pete as a typical Irish fighter. Tough as nails, iron chin and an inbred desire to trade with his opponents, even if it meant taking two or three shots to every one he gave.

After I watched the fight I said, "Nice defence, Peter." His reply: "Defence is overrated."

The fight game would take its toll on Pete, who found himself on the receiving end of an "intervention" orchestrated by several of his closest friends who grew concerned about the obvious damage that Pete was taking from the sport he so loved.

Pete's speech was becoming impaired and it was disconcerting to everyone.

It wouldn't be easy for Pete to hang 'em up, but he got the message.

I give those guys credit -- they probably saved his life.

Like the true champ he was, Pete took the speech impairment thing in stride. Never shy of dishing it out, Pete could take it, too. Cops are relentless trash talkers and Pete was one of the best.

Pete's speech impairment was often interpreted by citizens as alcohol impairment, a situation that provided great material for the guys who loved to mess with him.

It was always funny up to the point when Pete would threaten to make the trash-talkers piss blood. Once it went there, everybody just walked away. No one really wanted to be the first to find out if Pete meant it.

In 2008, I hired Pete to build a deck on the front of my residence.

It was during this time that I would see that Pete's work ethic and dedication to excellence was not just limited to his police career.

He showed up every day, early as expected, worked his ass off and refused to take breaks. My wife had to literally force him to stop his work and take five minutes to eat a sandwich.

His work, creativity and attention to detail was impeccable.

In fact, it was so good, the final product won a "best deck" contest prize that netted us a $500 free shopping spree at Bird Lumber.

It wasn't all smooth sailing.

Every day Pete would bring one of the loves of his life to the job site.

Don't get me wrong, I love dogs and everything, but every day after Pete would leave the job, I would look around the yard and find gigantic holes dug in my lawn along with enormous piles of dog s . Much like his owner, this was no normal dog, normal dogs don't drop logs the size of landscape ties on people's lawns.

The next day I would confront Pete and tell him to put some mitts and a diaper on his mutt but he would just give me that sheepish grin and fire off some smartass remark that would make us both break up in laughter.

The last time I saw Pete was at my retirement party this year.

It was great to see him and I was honoured to see his face in the crowd.

I was especially honoured to share a couple of drinks with him at the after party in our hotel room.

That honour turned to horror as I would later see him snuggled up to one of my beautiful daughters on the couch engaged in an intimate conversation. In typical O'Kane style, he just smirked and said, "What are you going to do?"

Peter O'Kane wasn't a perfect human being, but he was a great warrior, blessed with steely courage and dogged determination, a great leader who inspired everyone around him.

Pete had a great sense of humour and shared that gift with all of us.

As tough as he was, it wasn't hard to see that he had a soft side filled with love and adoration for his family, friends and those he cared about.

Above all else, Peter O'Kane was a good soldier.

We all mourn his loss.

Rest in peace, brother.

The thin blue line just got thinner.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 25, 2012 A8

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