The footfall of police boots, marching, on asphalt.
A lone drummer setting the pace.
A slain officer’s partner, transcending her own trauma to carry his forage cap on a velvet pillow, walking behind the hearse that conveyed Det.-Const. Jeffrey Northrup on his final journey.
Badge No. 99201.
Thirty-one years a cop in Toronto. Died a cop, in the line of duty, while responding to a call shortly after midnight on July 2. A routine call, suspected robbery in progress, but not a random tragedy. Random would mean without intent or conscious decision. Northrup was killed, say police, when deliberately struck by a vehicle he and partner Det.-Const. Lisa Forbes had approached in the parking garage below Nathan Phillips Square.
On Monday, as the city went about its usual bustling business, some 3,000 police officers and first responders — from Toronto, from across the province and beyond, most wearing pandemic face masks imprinted with Northrup’s badge number — mustered and marched in sombre tribute to a fallen colleague. Winding along Lake Shore Boulevard to the Exhibition grounds and assembling — physically distanced — at BMO Field for a funeral drenched in ritual and symbolism.
It happens rarely, mercifully. But it is always wrenching. Because they are there to protect and sometimes they can’t save even themselves.
The record shows that Northrup is one of 35 homicide victims in Toronto this year. No life has more value than another. City streets weren’t closed to accommodate a funeral procession in any of those other murders.
But there are families and there are families. And Northrup belonged to the wider family of policing, of public service, a job he clearly performed with dedication surpassed only by devotion to his immediate family: Spouse Margaret, sons Brennen and Mitchell, daughter Samantha, mother Diane.
“Jeff and I met in jail,’’ Margaret Northrup told the audience, eliciting a round of chuckles. “Me giving medications to inmates before court, and him handcuffing them to get into a paddy wagon.’’
She was a nurse, he was a court constable.
“It really was love at first sight.’’
Before their first date, she’d asked a correctional friend: “So what’s this Jeff Northrup like? Her response was, he makes great brownies.
“If you know, you know.’’
What composure and endurance it must have taken for this woman, suddenly a widow, to have risen from her seat and delivered that eulogy. Nearly three decades they’d been together, raising their kids, making a home, and after her husband achieved his long-held ambition of becoming a police officer, sending him off to work each day in the tacit promise that he would return to her safe and sound.
Always with the dread of that knock on the door.
“The fact that unique among most professions,’’ said Mayor John Tory, “there is a chance you might not return from a day’s work in the service of others. It is said that courage can’t see around corners, but goes around them anyway. And many of us have certainly come to understand much better that answer a so-called routine call can end up in a place that is anything but routine.’’
Life is full of risks, for everybody. But there is a particular risk for cops — and a covenant. Men and women with whom we are likely to cross paths on the worst days of our lives, in moments of urgency, fear and grief. And frankly, these aren’t the best of days for policing, as the crimes and abuse of power by some cast a shadow across the many.
Police Chief James Ramer referenced that reality. “After more than 31 years of service, Jeff remained an exemplary police officer at a time when being a police officer has never been harder, when the work we do, mostly for people we will never know, is sometimes viewed with distrust. And when the fault lines between us and the community we serve seem so difficult to bridge.’’
Though Northrup began his policing career at 11 Division, he spent most of it at 52 Division, in the heart of downtown Toronto. He knew the zest of it and the underbelly of it; was on the patrolling front line during the height of gun violence in the Entertainment District. Known as “Coach’’ to the young officers he helped train before following his investigative keenness into the major crimes unit, back out on the road again.
Freakishly punctual, indeed routinely arriving before shift. “If you are not early, then you are indeed late,’’ he’d say.
Division cook, whipping up breakfast and his signature chili, placing a plate of food in front of officers frantically filling out their reports because “you have to eat.’’
It was recalled that, the last time a Toronto police officer was killed —Sgt. Ryan Russell, also a 52 Division cop, run over when attempting to stop the driver of a stolen snow plow on Jan. 12, 2011 — Northrup had gone into the station though it was his day off. He wrote in his memo book: “Meet with the team regarding Sgt. Ryan Russell. Help out in station with what I can.’’
Northrup could not have foreseen the day when his name would be on everyone’s lips, when thousands of officers in the city would be mourning his loss. When the chief’s Ceremonial Unit, of which he was part, would be escorting his Canadian flag-draped casket and 52 Division colleagues forming an honour guard for him. The pipes playing “Amazing Grace” for him. The police flag folded and placed in his widow’s lap, his cap on top.
It was the family’s decision to invite the city into this most personal and sorrowfully poignant occasion — the funeral by invitation only, with many dignitaries present and private burial later, but pool TV cameras permitted for live coverage and streaming on YouTube. Were we not still COVID-wary, doubtless more civilians would have lined the procession route. The cortege had come from so far away — a funeral home in Thornhill.
As retired constable Melissa Elaschuk sang “See You Again,’’ chosen by Margaret Northrup, those in attendance were shown photographs on the large screen — scenes from a life cut far too short. Most touchingly, Northrup with his children as babies. Just this past Father’s Day, he’d sent a message to a friend: “It is great to be a dad.’’
Northrup packed a great deal into his 55 years. Deeply involved with his civvy street community. A man who’d never been camping before meeting his future wife, turned into a Scouts leader. Cheering on his sons’ lacrosse teams. A fervent advocate of and volunteer with the Special Olympics, through the sports activities of daughter Samantha. Held in immense affection by his Brampton neighbours, dear to friends, profoundly respected by colleagues.
They are all by the Northrup family’s side now. But most of all a family in the solace and support of a policing embrace.
“Jeff loved life to the fullest and life loved him back,’’ said his widow. “I have always admired Jeff’s kind heart, calm demeanour, amazing work ethic and his ability to make myself and others smile. His presence grounded me and his arms surrounded me, making me feel safe and cherished.
Margaret Northrup will never be enclosed in those arms again.
“I am lost without you. However I will remain strong with you still in my heart and by my side. I promise to protect and love our beautiful children fiercely, with all my being.
“Goodbye my love.’’