In 1975, the National Film Board shot a controversial documentary in the Downtown Eastside that made a star out of a tough, foul-mouthed Vancouver Police Department beat cop named “Whistling” Bernie Smith. The 27-minute documentary was called Whistling Smith.
The film, which appeared on the TV news show 60 Minutes and was nominated for an Academy Award, sealed Smith’s reputation as a tough cop with a big heart.
Retired VPD Sergeant Bernie Smith died this week. He was 89. Details of Smith’s death have not yet been released.
Smith earned his nickname because of his constant whistling while strolling the beat in the Downtown Eastside.
Smith was featured in a 2003 Courier cover story written by reporter Mike Howell. Near the end of Howell’s story, Smith told him, "In order to be a policeman, you must love people — love them. Being interviewed by a female reporter once, she said to me, 'You're a bit of an egotist, aren't you?' I said, 'No lady, I'm a super egotist, because if I don't love me, I can't love anybody else."
In a press release regarding Smith’s death, VPD Chief Jim Chu said at a ceremonial unit dinner last year, the retired sergeant sang “with perfect pitch and in a deep baritone voice a song he wrote about police officers who serve on the front lines.”
Chu said Smith’s performance was so impressive, the VPD recorded him singing his composition, dubbed Thin Blue Line, with The Odds and Jim Byrnes. Chu later stood with Smith at a fundraiser where the video was played to a large crowd.
“You could see the pride he felt when his song of appreciation for his fellow police officers was so well received,” said Chu.
The video is available at youtube.com: search, “Thin Blue Line: ‘Whistling’ Bernie Smith.”