How I accidentally became a police officer

I stumbled into policing accidentally. I’m serious. To this day I hate when people ask me about how I got started, and why I joined. Had I always dreamt about becoming a police officer? Truth is, I hadn’t.

I grew up in a military family, my father and mother both members of the Canadian Forces. I have an older brother. I played every sport imaginable and was one of those annoying people who liked running. When my brother was 18, he joined the military as well. While pursuing my undergrad in Law, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer. My parents urged me to join the military and have them pay for law school. Ha! Yeah right! The military had moved me around from province to province my entire childhood, disrupting my life and presenting unique challenges and anxieties that arose from always being the new kid.

After I graduated university I faced the millennial struggle of having an arts degree; every job I could possibly work wanted at least five years of experience that I didn’t have. With no money for law school and an extreme aversion to taking out a $100,000 student loan, I took my fancy honours degree and internship at NATO as a legal assistant and became a bartender.

On my downtime, I scoured the internet for law-ish related jobs I could do. A lawyer that I had done some work for in university suggested I look into civilian policing jobs, since I had always liked criminal law. I searched the local municipal and provincial police services surrounding my city and sent a few applications off for “communications”. The next thing I knew, I had been hired by one of the largest police forces in Canada as a bilingual Communications Operator, aka a police dispatcher.

Culture. Shock.

People are crazy. I’m not joking. I don’t mean that directed to anyone who suffers from actual mental health issues. I just mean… I couldn’t believe the reasons that people called the police! Everyday issues that you assumed one could solve themselves, nope, people wanted an officer to attend. I can’t tell you how many times I had to look around at my co-workers in utter shock while asking the person on the other line, “Ok, and what is it you want the police to do about your seven year old son who won’t go to bed?”. I spent a few years as a dispatcher surrounded by the most kick-ass co-workers you could ever imagine. We listened to the worst things possible, without being able to do anything but reassure people that help was on the way. We were chained to our desks.

As with most things in my life, I started to go stir crazy. I loved my job, but I didn’t love my crazy schedule (I was doing contract work and therefore did not have a set schedule). I was also working part-time as a bartender still, to supplement the weeks where I didn’t get 40 hours at the Communications Centre. I was exhausted and burnt out. I had two failed relationships that I will blame on my schedule (probably had a lot more to do with me, but hey, let’s bury that!) and inability to commit to any plans any given week.

I came into work one day, sat myself in the far corner away from everyone else (this is odd behaviour. Usually it is very difficult to get me to shut up). I stared at my multiple screens with tears welling up in my eyes (also odd behaviour. I cry in the shower because then no one, not even me, knows if I’m actually crying or not. Don’t worry, I’m well aware how messed up this sounds). One of my Sergeants came over to me, and noticing I was about to have a monumental breakdown, took me off the floor and into the conference room. Thank god he has teenager daughters, because nothing gets waterworks flowing like when someone asks you “what’s wrong?”. I bawled to my poor, bewildered Sergeant for a good 45 minutes, lamenting about how this cool, well-paying job was ruining my life.

When I finally finished being embarrassing, he said to me, quite calmly, “when are you going to get on the road?” (read: police speak for when are you going to become an officer?). I laughed. Right in his face. I had just cried about boys (cringe), my schedule sucking (double cringe) and my total inability to handle all the cards I was currently being dealt (floor, please open, swallow me up, I am not worthy). I routinely sent police officers to horrible car accidents, violent domestics, to do death notifications to family members etc etc. Here I was crying about stuff that everyone goes through, and this guy thought I could be a police officer?! This was also around the time that ISIS was proclaiming their members to ambush and kill police officers, so yeah, also, not that brave.

My Sergeant persisted. He gave me a copy of our bible, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement (they actually give this to us at Police Academy) and set me up on a ride along with a female officer in a nearby detachment. She was amazing. I had been on a few ride alongs before but only with male officers. I was curious to see things from a female perspective. One of my main reservations had always been the “issue” of being a woman in a male dominated field. This officer, like me, had grown up athletic and with a brother. She was super cool and calm when dealing with the public, and completely changed my thinking that somehow I wouldn’t be able to do this because I was female.

Game. Changer.

That’s what happened. That’s what I wanted to be. A game changer. Insert every sports metaphor I had ever rolled my eyes at growing up and I realized that’s how my life had always been. My favourite quote of all time is “when you want to, you change the game”. IT WAS TIME TO CHANGE THE GAME! Who was this pathetic little girl crying over boys and life’s woes? How did I get to this point? Nope. Not me. Not my style. I had always been the person that my friends came to for help or to bounce ideas off of. I managed and coached a hockey team while working two jobs and volunteering every Saturday teaching kids how to skate and play hockey. I had talked people down from suicide, and kept people calm while they were trapped inside vehicles at accidents. I was the person who, except for rare occasions (as documented above), kept my shit together and went on about my duties with no one the wiser.

The next thing I knew, I was prepping for my entry tests, and getting my application ready. Humble brag, I passed every test the first time I took it, and I was accepted on my first application to the only police force I applied to.
(*disclaimer, this is not to say anyone who has to re-do any tests, or who had to interview more than once before becoming successful are in anyway not fit for duty. As a female, I was just pretty damn proud of myself.) 
There I was, in my mid-twenties, physically fit, bilingual with a university degree and a background in dealing with drunks (I’m looking at you, bartending) and policing (thank you, dispatching) with literally nothing to lose and ready to be sent anywhere. Oh, and I’m a chick. Go me.

Two friends from the Communications Centre I worked at had also gotten hired into the same recruitment class as I did. Small victories. We set out in late August to the Police Academy, for a week and a half of pre-training, followed by 13 weeks at the Police College, and then return to our Police Academy for 8 weeks of post-college training. 6 months of boot camp, here I come.

I will not lie, I hated pretty much 90% of my training. Don’t get me wrong, it was excellent, world-class training, and has greatly assisted me in life on the road. Being a millennial, I naturally kept a snapchat diary of “days in captivity”, documenting our tiny shared-rooms with bunk beds, 5:00 AM wake up calls for physical fitness, pepper spray adventures and getting hit with simunition (paint pellets that sting a surprising amount when you’re hit by one. They leave wicked welts too.) Why the hell was I here? Every “game changer” thought that popped into my head was quickly replaced with thoughts of “how do I make every part of me stop hurting?” and “will I ever sleep more than 5 hours again?”. The officers I had worked with as a dispatcher laughed at me and told me that compared to what they went through, our training was pretty much like summer camp. Our days were shorter, we had weekends off, and I think only a couple people ever threw up from our PT sessions, as opposed to everyone.

Every night, as I laid on top of my perfectly made, hospital cornered bed on the top bunk, wrapped tightly in a little fleece blanket that I could hide under my towels and pass room inspection, my roommate and I would trade memories about home life, she, her husband and her dogs, me, my cat (come on, you’d probably guessed it by now). Every morning, when the alarm went off way too early, I would be greeting by her daily “I fucking hate this place. It’s so fucking early. Fuck.” as we raced to get to the shower before the other two girls we shared a bathroom with.

I met some of the greatest people during training. The College had created for us a network of competent police resources that span across our province (municipal, provincial, First Nations and MNR) — like-minded peers who will always be a source of sound advice and a shoulder to lean on. Back at the Academy, I was training with only people from my specific force, and we spent an ungodly amount of time together. We were ruthlessly mocked by our peers from the College, as we were the only force that had 8 weeks of post training, and the only training that required you to live at the Academy.

I almost didn’t make it. Seriously. (I got in serious trouble one day because of my damn mouth/attitude problem) The coursework was fine, I had tutored peers at the College for exams and had helped people at the Academy with assignments. As a former dispatcher, I was fluent in 10-codes and had an idea of how things worked on the road that sometimes proved helpful to others with no police background. I was in the best shape of my life, and in the top 10 runners of my 65-person recruit class. All that being said, mentally, it was draining. I stayed at the Academy (and the College) most weekends rather than make the 8 hour commute back home for pretty much one day. I felt distanced from my friends and family. Thankfully, I had the most supportive group of friends both back home and at the Academy that I can honestly say I would not have made it through without. Game changers.

Finally, thankfully, amazingly, that fateful day arrived and we graduated. We were told that receiving our badges from the Commissioner would be the proudest moment of our careers. It was pretty special, but more special for me is when we were finally dismissed, for the final time, after 6 long months of training. We were DONE! We gleefully cheered and hugged each other, before being swarmed by our loved ones who had come to witness this moment. And then, just like that, it was over. We all went our separate ways, to our separate detachments, to get on with our lives and our careers. To make a difference. To be game changers in the communities we would work.

So there I was. An accidental police officer.

Now on the road, I still face challenges everyday. The learning curve is huge, and most days I feel like I don’t know enough, yet I’m tasked with protecting the public and upholding the law (don’t worry, I have a dope coach officer, a wicked sergeant and an awesome platoon who all make sure everything is good). The me-being-female thing has come up a few times — I’ve been hit on during traffic stops (helpful hint: not a good idea) and been automatically dismissed in favour of speaking to my male co-workers at calls. I’ve been called out while off-duty by people who say I only got hired to fill a “diversity quota”. Let me be clear, I passed every test, the very same tests, as all the male recruits I came on with.

I wrote this piece for a different project, and let me tell you, this was not my projected outcome. The catharsis of writing this has lead me to the following nuggets of wisdom; don’t panic if your life is not unfolding like how you thought, or how it is for people around you. Ask for help when you need it. Learn to cry outside of the shower without feeling immense shame (okay, maybe this one is just for me). Never stop learning and always have courage… you might just stumble into something great, by accident. Game changer.