Recent spike in crime is slowing down Calgary Police, says homicide Det. Dave Sweet
Sweet says his passion for policing can be traced to a grandfather he never knew, who was a New York City policeman in the early 1900s.
“My mom had kept a whole bunch of little newspaper articles about all different things that he had done as a police officer,” Sweet recalled. “So I remember as a little kid reading those articles – and she still had his old night stick – just like little knickknack kinds of badges and things of that nature from that era. I just spent time looking at these things, learning about him and I think that’s kind of where the interest came from in the first place.”
Nevertheless, when Sweet first attended Mount Royal University, it wasn’t to be a policeman. He wanted to be a gym teacher because of his fond memories of high school P.E. class.
But Sweet’s keenness for crime would reignite when he took sociology and criminology courses at the university.
“A lot of people find crime interesting or intriguing and I was one of those people as well…I thought it would be really fun to solve mysteries,” Sweet said.
He decided to switch majors and from that moment forward, his career path was set. Sweet began working jobs that would direct him to the field of policing. He started as a security officer at the Hudson’s Bay Company and then moved on to work in the psychiatric unit at the Calgary General Hospital before finally getting a job with the Calgary Police when he was 24.
The early years were rough. For the first seven or eight months officers are put through recruit training before being placed on the street in uniform capacity. From there, officers are expected to find their “niche.”
“I really enjoyed taking a problem, spending some time on it and coming up with an appropriate solution in the end that made everybody really happy,” Sweet said.
That led him to his niche – homicide.
A thousand cuts
“Through investigation you get to learn a lot about people,” he said. “There’s a little bit of time that has to be invested and as a result of anything with time, the end result product always feels better than something that’s immediate and gratifying.”
In 2010, Sweet had, as he put it, his “coming out” in the homicide unit when he was assigned as the lead investigator of the vicious beating death of 47-year-old Mark Mariani. Sweet spent 10 months solving the case.
“Mark came from a really normal, decent, awesome family. He himself was a normal, decent, awesome guy who walked into an alley one night not knowing that there was a danger that lurked there. And two people that have never met him before decided to kick him and beat him to death, for no other reason than for shits and giggles. And so it was really nice to solve it,” Sweet said.
Unfortunately, despite the love he has for his job, Sweet said each case takes away a piece of himself.
“They’re not big pieces, they’re just little pieces. Death is a thousand cuts and I guess you just become a pretty intense person, you get angry easily.”
Because of the huge emotional toll homicide investigation has, officers are required to meet with the on-staff psychiatrist every six months.
“We just put details away and we never think about them again,” Sweet said.
The psychiatrists call this self-learned technique compartmentalizing, and Sweet said some officers are better at it than others.
Sweet said an example of his own compartmentalization was when he went to the autopsy of a young girl.
“I spent the whole day there, about nine hours and we went over every little injury and tried to understand how each thing was caused,” he recalled. “At the end of the day I went home and had dinner and then was talking to my friend after on the phone. I said ‘You know Johnny, I’ve done absolutely two tenths of f– all today.’”
Sweet had completely forgotten about being at the autopsy.
“I completely lost track of that eight hours of that day. That’s not good,” he said.
Nevertheless, Sweet said “If I’m driving by North Hill Mall, I think of Mark Mariani each and every time I drive by there. If I smell cinnamon buns, I think of a double homicide in Evanston that I went to. I have images and memories of a lot of things, but they don’t affect me, they’re just part of it. I go through them fine, but it’s weird.”
But one thing Sweet hasn’t been able to compartmentalize is the recent spike of murders in Calgary.
“It’s been an exceptionally busy year and there’s not enough investigators to handle the caseload that we have coming in,” he said.
According to Sweet, there have been 30 homicides in Calgary in 2015, along with several suspicious deaths.
This recent spike has taken a huge toll on Calgary’s homicide unit. Sweet said the extremely busy year has left detectives feeling burnt out from the extra 15 to 20 hours they’re working on top of the average 40-hour workweek.
“We’ve just had so many [cases] that it’s getting to the point of frustrating. We want to curl up, not just me, I think a lot of them [detectives] just want to curl up in a ball and go away.”
Sweet said that because of the increasing pile of cases, old cases are getting pushed to the side to make room for new ones, a situation that frustrates him greatly.
“That’s no way to run homicides because their family deserves a resolution,” he said.
Despite the dedication Sweet has to his job, recently he’s been finding himself reconsidering whether or not he should say goodbye.
With retirement eligibility creeping up in seven years, this question has become even more prevalent.
“We’re tired and we’re exhausted. But it’s not the cases,” he said. “It’s the not knowing when it’s going to stop that’s getting us all freaked out and thinking we should just pull up and do something else.”
Sweet said that if he were to retire, he would find some other way to serve the community as a volunteer.
“I’d like to get going on that sooner than later but I need to get my pension to do it.”
Thumbnail photo by by Stuart Dryden
The editor responsible for this article is Melanie Walsh, email@example.com