After just a few months in university, Deputy Chief Mike Federico was forced to drop out because his family couldn’t afford the tuition.
He found a job as a truck driver. One of the principals at the company was a retired Toronto Police officer who encouraged him to think about public service as an option.
“Being born and raised in Toronto, policing in my community was appealing,” said Federico, who was considering military service at the time.
He still fondly remembers parking his box van along Jarvis St. to apply at headquarters.
“When I think back what path anyone of us could walk, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the opportunity to serve Toronto as a police officer,” he said. “I will always look back at that time as a distinct life-changing event. I felt so proud and privileged that day I got hired.”
Federico remembers visiting HQ to find out about the employment process but was ushered down the hall for physical testing, to fill out an application and given forms to fill out and a date to return for his interview. He was hired after his background check and interview in 1972.
“I remember that process as being self-validating,” he said. “I got selected by an esteemed and respected organization and I couldn’t have felt prouder. Had I retired as a police constable, I would have done so a happy man. The fact that I got a chance to contribute in more senior positions as the years went by certainly was both satisfying and self-motivating. But I think a career with Toronto Police as a constable and as a civilian member could be equally rewarding and satisfying.”
Starting as a cadet in 41 Division doing general civilian duties, including parking enforcement, he became a uniformed member just after turning 21. Almost 45 years later, he’s leaving Canada’s largest municipal police service fulfilled and with a great sense of accomplishment.
A graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Federico rose to the position of Deputy Chief in charge of Community Safety Command.
Anticipating retirement from the Service in 2015, he was asked by Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle to stay on.
Federico said he felt complimented and honoured to be asked to serve two more years under the new Chief.
“That was fulfilling for me… I am familiar with Mark’s contribution to policing. In fact, the Chief was given the file to look at police engagement when he was the Superintendent in charge of 12 Division. That was a shared file with Professional Standards which I was overseeing at the time. So we worked on that file together. I always knew that he was a dedicated, progressive and innovative leader. I also knew him as a good, steady, solid worker and a committed public servant. So, when he asked me to stay, that was a personal compliment to me. I was delighted to do so, much to the consternation of my wife (Debby),” he said.
The couple has been married 43 years and they have two children, Matt and Diann, and grandson, Owen.
Chief Saunders said he relied on the experience of Federico to help him in his early days as top cop.
“When I had the opportunity of becoming Chief, Chair Andy Pringle came into my office and asked me what I needed. Mike Federico was my response. He was on his way out and I knew there was no way I was going to succeed without him by my side,” said Chief Saunders.
Mike is one of the most self-actuated human beings that I have ever met. When I say that, I talk about a human being that cares more about others than himself
“…I didn’t care about the number of years he was with the Service. I cared about his wisdom, knowledge and abilities as one of the most fearless leaders in Canadian police history. When I got to be a command officer, I got the opportunity to work with him. In my opinion, Mike is one of the most self-actuated human beings that I have ever met. When I say that, I talk about a human being that cares more about others than himself.”
Federico, a member of the Order of Merit and a recipient of the Police Exemplary Service medal and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal, said his wife has always been supportive of his career choice and the jobs he has done.
“Like every good partner, willing to sacrifice some of her own ambitions for mine, I am greatly indebted to her,” he said. “My wife is a career nurse and that meant balancing personal schedules and raising the kids.”
Federico plans to enjoy some quality time with his family, including grandson Owen, and do some travelling.
“I now have the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends because I am not the obstacle to the scheduling,” he said. “I was always that last obstacle when it came to putting together a social activity around family and friends. That is no more.”
He has served as a street officer in Parkdale, as a sergeant in 31 Division, as an Internal Affairs investigator and led the Fraud Squad.
Over the years, Federico represented the Service locally, provincially and nationally, and was a member of various provincial and federal committees working to improve public safety. He was a Use of Force advisor on the Future of Policing Advisory Committee and a member of the Pearls of Policing International Action Learning Group and the FBI National Academy Associates.
Federico has also led improvements to police response to people in mental health crisis in Toronto and influenced the response throughout the country.
He played a leading role in championing the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, which pairs a police officer and a nurse to respond to issues involving individuals experiencing mental illness in an efficient, compassionate and holistic manner. He also recently collaborated with the Ministry of Health & Long Term Care, the Canadian Mental Health Association and several community-based mental health agencies, to establish a 24/7 phone service that connects police to resources that assist individuals experiencing mental illness without the need to apprehend them. He also led the implementation of the Iacobucci report on Police Encounters with Persons in Crisis following the death of Sammy Yatim.
Federico has also served on the Board of Directors of the Vitanova Foundation, a community-based addiction and mental health treatment centre where, he notes: “People's lives have been saved.”
At his retirement ceremony on September 14, Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle acknowledged Federico’s work creating a better understanding of mental illness in policing and lasting partnerships with healthcare and social services agencies.
“His work in this area has been consistently inclusive, working with the community to ensure hugely important partnerships between the public and the police,” said Pringle.
Pringle presented Federico with the Medal of Merit, the second-highest award that can be granted to a police officer or civilian member.
“Deputy Federico has embodied what the Toronto Police Service is, and what it stands for, which is its founding principles and its ever-important core values,” said Pringle. “It is hard to envision our organization without him. He is a police officer who truly cares about the public and about the police community. And, when he leaves, his legacy will remain in so many parts of this organization. He has put into place a system, a process and an approach that is founded on an adherence to professional standards, one which values rigorous accountability and comprehensive governance.”
Federico’s last day on the job is September 22.