In an effort to hire from within the Indigenous community, Toronto Police partnered with the Miziwe Biik Employment & Training Agency (MBETA) six years ago to offer one-year contracts to work within a police service.
Making an impact as an Administrative Clerk with Talent Acquisition, Kelly Esquat transitioned to a uniformed member joining 129 new recruits presented with their badges on June 11 at the Enercare Centre.
The Ojibway First Nations member is the first MBETA graduate to become a Toronto Police Constable after spending a year working in her civilian role.
“When she first came in, she wanted to be a Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) member,” said Sgt. Chris Gordon. “Working closely with our Recruiting section, she had a change of heart and decided she wanted to get into policing.”
Through hard work and perseverance, Gordon said Esquat earned her badge.
“She did what she had to do to succeed. This is a very bright and well-organized individual who will do extremely well in her new role.”
While in a civilian role with the Service, Esquat attended many community events with Const. Monica Rutledge of the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit.
“Law Enforcement was something she was very keen on doing and she was driven to get to this point,” said Rutledge. “She’s a hard worker, go-getter and someone who will wear the badge with honour.”
The son of a police officer, Brett Keith was attracted to law enforcement at a very young age.
His father, Sgt. Kelly Keith, served with the Winnipeg Police Department and is an expert in use of force.
“I grew up around policing and this is what I wanted to do as a career,” said Keith.
Raised in Ste. Anne, a small town in Manitoba, he volunteered with the local service for five years before going to the Ontario Police College. After graduation, he expected to return home to replace an officer who intended to leave.
When the officer changed his mind, Keith was given the option of working part-time with the Ste. Anne Police Department that has six officers.
He applied to Toronto Police instead and was hired.
“Everything happened so quickly,” said Keith. “I have been in Toronto for just two months and I feel overwhelmed. This is a big city with a lot of diversity that I am looking forward to serving. It’s so very different than where I came from.”
Having his dad make the badge presentation was a special moment for Keith who is assigned to 32 Division.
“This is something I dreamed of,” he said.
New Constable Conroy Coleman kept his eye on policing after migrating from Jamaica in 1999. He worked on a farm and in a factory, did renovations and was an Auxiliary member with Niagara Regional Police Service for five years.
“I did a lot of jobs along the way, but I never lost focus of what I wanted to do and that was policing,” said Coleman, who is starting his policing career in 23 Division.
“That is a neighbourhood with a lot of diversity and some challenges and I am grateful for the opportunity to go in there to try to make a difference,” he said. “You can count on me being very active in the area, interacting with residents and letting them know the police is on their side.”
After spending in a year in Mexico City on a work assignment, Marlene Velasco was seeking a job change.
“What do I want to do?” she kept asking herself. “I did a lot of community work and interacted a lot with people, so I figured policing offered the best opportunity to do both of those which I really enjoy.”
Born in Saskatchewan and raised in Alberta, Velasco started the application process last year.
“I knew that Toronto Police was hiring,” she said. “Everything has worked out well, from the intense training at the college that has prepared us to execute our job to the best of our ability to the class members who have been very supportive. I am proud to be one of Toronto’s finest.”
At a young age, Nathalee Thompson was very interested in policing.
That’s mainly because her father, who is of Jamaican heritage, kept reminding his daughter that policing and nursing offer job security.
“He would often say you can’t fail in those fields because people get sick and there are always criminals,” recounted Thompson. “After completing university, I didn’t think I was in the right mind set to be a police officer.”
She pursued the health care profession, working as a registered practical nurse at a long-term care facility in Ajax for almost 14 years.
Starting on the floor, she transitioned to administration and was an interim clinical manager but longed to be back interacting with people face to face.
She contacted a friend – a female Durham Regional Police Officer – who had been encouraging her for nearly eight years to switch careers.
“I am ready,” Thompson told her. “I then got in touch with another friend who is with Toronto Police at 53 Division and he helped me with the application process.”
Within six weeks of applying, she was hired.
The timing was perfect as the Service lifted a hiring freeze in late 2017 and there is a large recruitment drive.
She’s ready for the new challenge of policing Canada’s largest and most diverse city.
“The moments leading up to the graduation felt surreal,” said Thompson, who is assigned to 41 Division. “I am excited, but my daughters are over the moon and so happy for me. When I told them what I was doing, the eldest reaction was, ‘Really’ and ‘Are you sure?’ The biggest thing for me at the start is going to be adjusting to a shift schedule. Earlier on in my nursing career, I was on shift duty.”
In welcoming the new recruits, Chief Mark Saunders told them they will be held to a higher standard of conduct.
“It’s not something we ask,” he said. “It is something we demand. It’s about the journey to maintain public trust. We know through research that if we have a community that work with us, they are the strongest and most vibrant. On the flip side of that, if we have a community that doesn’t trust us, then we have a community that will not want to work with us. It is important to know that. Your job is difficult enough. You can’t erode public trust in any shape or form.”
As the fourth largest municipal police service in North America, Saunders reminded the graduates they chose the busiest Service to work for and they will be challenged.
“It says a lot of about your character,” he said. “This is not a job. It is a calling. To put others before self and to serve others before self speaks to the core of who you are. We can train for that, but only to a limit.”
Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle told the graduates they are now part of an impressive organization comprised of professional and talented people and their arrival coincides with the Service growing and infusing into its ranks new blood, new perspectives, fresh energy and novel ideas.
“You arrive at a time of momentous change and transformation for the Board and the Service as we modernize our organization in our continuing pursuit of excellence in policing,” said Pringle. “It is an exciting time and an important time for our evolving organization. As our newest members, you will be part of this significant transformation and we welcome your contributions as to how we can serve the public most effectively and most efficiently, dedicated to delivering police services, in partnership with our communities, to keep Toronto the best and safest place to be.”
The new class brings extraordinary language skills to the Service with 24 per cent speaking more than one language. A total of 91 per cent have completed post-secondary education.
“Your diversity is a mirror of our city,” added Pringle. “And in it lies our strength. The quality of our Service is strengthened when the diversity of our great city is reflected in those who police it. Through you, we can reach out to our different communities and neighbourhoods, speak to community members in their home languages, build and strengthen relationships and thus enhance our ever important partnership with the public.”
Mayor John Tory, who is also a member of the TPSB, said the swearing-in ceremony marks the beginning of the new constables’ careers as public servants.
“It is a career that requires a great deal of courage, compassion and commitment,” he said. “It is a career in which you will have extraordinary responsibility which carries with it the obligation to act at all times in a way that builds public trust and enhances the good reputation of the Toronto Police Service and of the City of Toronto.”
Premier Doug Ford said the province will continue to support police officers in their quest to ensure that Toronto is a safe place for all of its citizens.
Paige McDowell was the class valedictorian while David Borch was the Honour Student Award winner with a 98 per cent average.
The Harry Mayzel Leadership Award was presented to Denis Houlahan, Wing Yin Kwok was the recipient of the Diversity & Inclusion Award and Richard Dermody received the Military Veterans Drill & Deportment Award.
Richard Sunichura won the Physical Training Most Improved Award and Philippe Cress was the Physical Training High Performance Award winner.
Each recruting class organizes a fundraiser for a noble cause.
The graduates raised over $3,800 from a barbecue that was presented to the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.