Tragedy, while it cannot be ignored, sometimes makes you stronger moving forward.
Sergeant Stephen Hicks can attest to that.
In 1979 while pursuing physical education studies at McMaster University, Hicks almost lost his life to an impaired driver in a vehicular accident. His girlfriend, Deanna Hunte, a University of Toronto student who was riding with him, succumbed to her injures.
On August 4, 1998, Detective Constable Bill Hancox was working undercover in Scarborough when he was stabbed by a drug addict. Hicks, who was on duty in the vicinity, helped deliver CPR and escort the ambulance on the emergency run to hospital where Hancox succumbed to his injuries.
A few hours after leaving Detective David Arbuckle – then his supervisor in the 41 Division Major Crime Unit – home after a work celebration in February 1993, Arbuckle died of a massive heart attack.
“I will never forget those tragedies,” he said. “Those things stay with you for the rest of your life.”
Instead of languishing in pain and despair, Hicks has focused on making a positive impact on people, particularly those of young people. He has been at the forefront of police-led community programming for the past 15 years.
In 1999, he established For KICKS (For Kids Involving Cops & Community for Knowledge and Sport) that lets young people in 31 Division to participate in physical fitness activities and build self-esteem. He also started a high school quarterback challenge at Downsview Park that allows young men in the community to compete for post-secondary scholarships and Generation Change, which provides youth with essential life skills for personal growth and development.
Hicks is in the process of introducing a gang-resistance education and training program for junior schools in 31 Division. The program has been running in elementary and middle schools since last September.
“When I came to this Division, crime was a lot higher here than it was in other Divisions that I had worked before,” said Hicks, who was the recipient of a Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI) Public Heroes Award presented on April 23 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. “I realized that we were not doing enough to work with the community. Frankly, we were reactive instead of being proactive.”
In its fourth year, the Public Heroes Awards recognize cops, firefighters and paramedics for their outstanding work. IDI is a non-profit group that seeks to promote social cohesion through interfaith and intercultural cooperation, tolerance and dialogue by sharing differences and similarities through various forums.
“For me, community work is not about getting awards and being rewarded,” Hicks said. “This, however, is an honour because it’s coming from my peers and it’s obviously a big deal for them. I see value in working to make a change in the community.”
In the past few years, Hicks has used his love of cycling to raise funds for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and medical institutions for kids across North America. Last year, he and six other 31 Division uniformed members along with three civilians outside the organization, completed a 1,000-kilometre ride from Toronto to Boston and raised nearly $15,000 in the process.
Hicks along with 11 officers from 31 Division and two Monsignor Fraser College-Norfinch campus teachers will ride from Toronto to Chicago, beginning on April 26. They are expected to arrive in the Windy City on May 3.
Staff Sergeant Richard Blanchard nominated Hicks for the award.
“Steve is one of the most committed officers I have seen during my time with the Service,” the Community Response manager noted. “He obviously realizes that if we get to young people at a very young age, they will make better decisions and learn the difference between right and wrong. In the past four years that I have been at 31 Division, the relationship between the police and the community has grown stronger and a lot of that has to do with Steve and what he has been able to accomplish. His commitment and leadership are second to none and his passion is the youth in the neighbourhood.”
Inspector Riyaz Hussein, the second in command at 31 Division, said Hicks deserves the recognition.
“He’s out there in the community doing various outreach initiatives that are helping to change lives,” said Hussein.
Previous winners include Constables Lance Verdoold, Johnny Bobbili, Sharon Kent, Mike Manzke and Sergeant Ryan Russell, who was honoured posthumously in 2012.
Constable John Zivcic, who died on the job last December, was recognized at this year’s ceremony posthumously with an honourary Public hero Award.
Durham Regional Police Chief Mike Ewles was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award while one of his officers, Terry Rayner was also honoured with a Public Heroes Award. Chris Spearen, of York Region Emergency Medical Services (EMS); Glen Gillies of Toronto EMS, Jeffrey David, of Toronto Fire Services; Kolin Alexander, of York Regional Police and Shaun Mitchell of Central York Fire Services also earned Public Heroes Awards.
Steve is one of the most committed officers I have seen during my time with the Service
Bobbili and Staff Superintendent Richard Richards Stubbings are on the hosting and selection panel.
“It’s really special when one of our own is honoured and when it comes from their peer group,” Stubbings said. “When you take his body of work into consideration, it’s obvious his peers made the right decision in choosing him to be a recipient of a Public Heroes Award.”
Hicks hails from a long line of family members to have served Toronto Police.
His grandfather, David Hicks, was a police officer in Ireland prior to joining the Metropolitan Toronto Police, while his father, Fred Hicks, retired as a Constable 17 years ago after 32 years on the job. He died in 2006.
Hicks’ uncle, Cecil, retired as a staff sergeant, while his cousin – Dave, who is Cecil’s son – left the Service 15 years ago.
Stephen and Dave Hicks were partners in the Fugitive Squad during Dave’s last year on the job.
Joining the Service in 1982, Hicks spent 14 years at 41 Division before being transferred to 42 Division where he spent two years in the Tamil Squad. He returned to 41 Division as an acting sergeant and worked in the Intelligence and Fugitive squads for two years before being promoted 14 years ago and assigned to 31 Division.