Special Constables From Many Backgrounds

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 9 a.m. December 31, 2019

Two classes of Special Constables graduated from training in December fulfilling roles as Court Officers and District Special Constables.

A woman in TPS special constable uniform
New District Special Constable Roxanna Churko

When asked by her kindergarten teacher what she wanted to be as an adult, Roxanna Churko drew a policewoman.

“I was only five years at the time and I only told my dad that story last year when I applied to the Waterloo Police Service,” she said.

Though her applications with the Windsor and Toronto Police Services to become a uniformed officer were turned down, Churko had good news for her father when she was hired as a Parking Enforcement Officer last March.

After six months serving in the city’s west end, she joined the District Special Constable (DSC) program that supports frontline officers.

Churko was in the graduating class of 34 that was presented with their badges on December 12 at the Toronto Police College. 

A total of nine are women.

The University of Saskatchewan 2003 Kinesiology & Exercise Science graduate spent almost two decades in the health, wellness and fitness sector before switching careers.

“I enjoyed what I was doing, but the last company I was at was sold and I just thought the time was right to pursue a new challenge,” said Churko who is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She was encouraged to join the Service after working as an Applicant Testing Services (ATS) Appraiser since February 2016.

The 10-week DSC training included instruction on crime scene management and de-escalation techniques. 

The entire class has completed post-secondary education.

Two men in special constable uniform holding plaques with a man in police uniform
Valedictorians Everett Astles-Christie and Nicholas Lawson with Deputy Chief Peter Yuen

“It was very intense and extensive and we learned a lot,” said class valedictorian Andrew Lawson. “Every aspect of policing was covered.”

Law enforcement wasn’t at the top of his career options a few years ago as he graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English and considered a career in journalism following in the footsteps of his father, Michael.

Det. Nicholas Lawson, who is in the Homicide Unit, presented the badge to his cousin.

A total of 15 of the 34 graduates speak another language other than English. They include Russian, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, Polish and Italian.

Deployed to Priority Response Command in several Divisions, the recruits will support frontline members with booking and prisoner management, basic report taking, document service, crime scene security, canvassing, evidence & missing person searches, evidence collecting & processing, parking infractions and mental health & de-escalation.

They will also assist community members with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). In addition, they have been extended Mental Health Act Section 17 powers that enable them to take custody of a person apprehended by a police officer.

Twenty five Court Officers also graduated alongside the DSCs.

Melanie Mendes, the only woman in the group and the recipient of the Physical Training Most Improved Award, was a bookkeeper and law clerk before making the transition.

“I wanted to be a uniformed officer, but after I gave birth to my third child, I thought that career would not be best for my family life because of scheduling,” said Mendes, who completed the correctional service worker program. “That training and my law exposure, I think, will serve me well in my new role.”

A women in TPS court uniform among a line of other officers
New Court Officer Melanie Mendes among fellow graduates

Assigned to Old City Hall, she received her badge from her husband of six years, Det. Const. Balakumaran Piraisoody who is with 43 Division Major Crimes Unit.

Of the 25 new Court Officers, 88 per cent have completed post-secondary education and 60 per cent speak languages other than English.

They will be responsible for transporting over 400 prisoners who attend court daily in 272 courtrooms across the city. They will also ensure the safe management of about 60,000 citizens appearing in in-custody annually.

Everett Astles-Christie was the Court Officer graduating class valedictorian.

In his address to the graduates, Acting Chief Peter Yuen said the TPS is ‘one big family’.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are Court Officers, Special Constables or Chief of Police,” he said. “We are all part of one family and we look after each other. You will be given every opportunity to excel, explore and push yourself to the highest level. Now, the expectation is that you will serve the public, using all the tools you have learnt from our fine trainers at the police college. You are expected to treat people with respect and go the extra mile. They don’t care what uniform you wear. To them, you are a Toronto Police officer and you are a reflection of us. This is an organization that’s steeped in tradition.”

A man in TPS uniform marching
District Special Constable Andrei Onceanu marches at the graduation

Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) Chair Jim Hart told the graduates they have joined an organization that values the relationship between its members and the community they serve.

“As a group, you are well equipped to help build this relationship,” he said. “You are woman and men from a wonderful variety of ethnic, cultural, language, career and educational backgrounds. “…You will be our ambassadors and our liaisons with the community and this, in itself, is a critical role in policing today. You bring a wide and rich range of other experiences, skills and abilities to the Service. I have no doubt that these too will stand you in good stead as you embark upon your career.”

Hart urged the new recruits to take satisfaction in knowing that their role is essential for keeping the city safe, thus allowing residents to enjoy an enviable quality of life.

“Be proud of yourselves as you perform your valued responsibilities and, at all times, be ethical and professional in the way you perform your job,” he added.

Court officer James Cruz won the High Academic Achievement Award with a 97 per cent mark, DSCs Deanne Taylor and Avery Leal were the recipients of the Physical Training Most Improved and Physical Training High Performance Awards respectively and their colleague, Damiano Sgrignuoli, was presented with the Leadership Award.

As the oldest member of the class at age 51 and a Parking Enforcement Officer for 15 years, the recruits looked up to Sgrignuoli for guidance and leadership.

“They approached me for advice with regards to rules and procedures, dress and anything to do with the Service,” he said.

Prior to joining TPS, Sgrignuoli was a pilot with for seven years until 9/11 saw the industry shrink.

“I had the desire to continue flying, but the airline industry was in flux then and there was a surplus of pilots in the market,” he said. “I had a young family and had just purchased a home at the time, so I was looking for work. Toronto Police gave me an opportunity.”

A woman in TPS special constable uniform in front of a man in police uniform
New District Special Constable Ameerah Ali accepts her badge from Deputy Chief Peter Yuen
TPS crest watermark