Sacha Van Loo
This is the story of a Belgian detective; he is a detective with a difference. And the difference is - he is blind. Now you are sure to wonder as to how a blind person can be a detective.
A small statured man who has been blind since birth, Sacha van Loo, born in 1971, is one of the six blind police officers of the pioneering unit specialising in transcribing and analysing wiretap recordings during criminal investigations. These blind detectives are popularly referred to as counter terrorism weapons.
Van Loo is not your typical cop. He holds a white cane instead of a gun and with the slightest sound of the engine on the wiretap, Van Loo can tell which car the suspect is driving. In fact, his disability allows him to pick up clues, which sighted detectives tend to overlook.
Van Loo’s acute sense of hearing comes into play, when the police eavesdrop on a suspected terrorist making a phone call. Van Loo can immediately identify the number by listening to the tones dialled. Also, hearing the sound of a voice echoing off a wall he is able to deduce if a suspect is speaking from a crowded restaurant or an airport lounge. So, it’s not wrong, if one of the directors at the Belgium Federal Police compares his sense of hearing to that of the power of observation of a superhero.
Besides having a library of accents in his head, Van Loo is an accomplished linguist who can speak several languages. This further enhances his skills in solving the entangled mysteries of the criminal investigations.
Van Loo admits, being blind has forced him to develop his other senses, and that his powers of being a detective rest in his ears. He has had to train his ears for survival.
Van Loo’s parents were quick to accept his blindness and encouraged him to be independent from a very early age. Van Loo, a father of two, attributing his success to his parents says that studying in a regular school helped him to adapt to day-to-day situations which was further reinforced during his classes in a special school for the blind, where he learned how to manoeuvre with a cane and read Braille. Van Loo recalls that as a young child his father, a film buff, took him to watch movies. His father also taught him to drive a car by making him sit on his lap and guiding his hands on the steering wheel. Having parents who were not risk averse helped Van Loo to develop an all-round personality. He enjoys skiing and horse riding, and to relax he plays the Arabic flute.
The blind police unit, which became operational in June 2007, originated after the Belgian government passed a law giving the police extended powers to use wiretaps in the investigations. It was then brought to notice that blind people can prove more adaptable than the sighted at listening to and interpreting wiretaps. The police also recognized that blind officers like Van Loo are particularly instrumental in counter terrorism investigations because wiretap recordings derived from the phone tap or from a bug placed in a terrorist camp are often muffled with loud background noise. This requires a highly trained ear to discern voices.
Van Loo, a no nonsense police officer, is determined not to let his handicap come in his way. He, with his special abilities, has surely made himself indispensable to the Belgian police force. Van Loo may not be entitled to carry a gun on the job or make arrests, but without a doubt he is one of the most effective weapons in the global fight against terrorism.