Growing up, Sarah Suongas always aspired to follow his footsteps of her father Chris.
“I always asked him questions related to his work when he came home,” she recalled, of her father, who is a 35-year veteran sergeant of the Toronto Police Service. “He told me stories I thought were interesting and they peaked my interest.”
Suongas was among 37 new recruits who were presented with their badges on October 8.
After finishing the Police Foundations program at Centennial College, she was a security officer for three years prior to joining the Toronto Transit Commission as a Special Constable.
“I used those two years to get some more experience before applying to Toronto Police,” she said.
Toronto was the only police service Suongas applied to in January.
“I felt very fortunate and was very excited when I got the call that I was hired,” she said.
Suongas gleaned some helpful tips from her dad as she prepares to make her mark in policing.
“He told me that this job comes with ups and downs and that I should treat people the way I want to be treated,” she said. “He said I should never judge people as I don’t know their circumstances and what led them to come in contact with the justice system.”
Assigned to 43 Division, Suongas’ only disappointment on graduation day is that her father wasn’t on hand to make the badge presentation because of COVID restrictions.
While attending a barbecue in a Mississauga park in 2013, Joseph Ogunniyi was struck by the make-up of the people around him.
“I remember turning to my friend and asking if there was anything he noticed that stands out,” he said. “My Nigerian buddy said ‘what’? and I said ‘you see the amount of diversity here’. Yet every police officer I saw in the community was white. I made a promise that in the next few years when I find my feet, I would try to get into policing.”
Ogunniyi applied to Toronto and Niagara where he first landed after migrating to Canada eight years ago.
“Toronto was where I wanted to be as I know I would be much more effective here,” he said. “If I really want to be a valuable asset, this is where I have to be.
“There’s not enough representation in police services across the Greater Toronto Area and there’s an over-representation of people of my race in the criminal justice system. I could stand on the sidelines and complain as much as I want or be on the inside as part of that change.”
The training, noted Ogunniyi, was challenging.
“I am getting into this career a bit late,” he pointed out. “But I was able to do well because this is something I really wanted to do.”
Prior to coming to Canada in 2012, Ogunniyi was a medical technologist in Soweto, South Africa.
He was a heavy equipment operator with Canadian National Railway operator for six years before embarking on a policing career.
While at Middlefield Collegiate Institute School in Scarborough Aravinthan (Arvi) Selvarajah observed some his friends going down the wrong path.
“I wanted to be a role model,” he said. “By the time I got to Grade 12, I pretty much had an idea of the career I would pursue.”
After completing the two-year Police Foundations program at Seneca College and a Psychology degree at York University in 2019, Selvarajah worked as an applied behavior analysis therapist with autistic children and adults.
In early 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic, he applied to police services in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
“Toronto was always my first choice because I worked in Scarborough and loved the area because of its diversity,” said Selvarajah, who migrated from Sri Lanka with his parents when he was just five months old.
He enjoyed the training and preparation leading up to graduation.
“The instructors were thorough and they made learning fun,” Selvarajah pointed out. “Being away from home for a lengthy period was a bit challenging, but the time went by quickly. My biggest takeaway from this experience is the importance of teamwork. It would have been extremely difficult if I didn’t have my colleagues to rely on.”
He’s assigned to 42 Division.
Growing up, Jason Leabres aspired to be a nurse.
After nine years working security at Pacific Mall and Scarborough Town Centre, he developed an interest in policing.
Leabres enrolled in the Ontario Tech University Forensic Psychology program that prepares graduates for leadership roles in the interface between Psychology and Law.
After graduating in 2018, he was a Special Constable with the Toronto Transit Commission for 18 months before putting in his application to become a uniformed police officer.
“The training overall was pretty good and I learned a lot,” he said of the experience at the Ontario Police College and Toronto Police College. “I found I benefitted more from the instructors who shared their personal experiences than the lecture slides.”
Growing up in Scarborough, he wanted to police in that community.
His wish was granted as he’s assigned to 41 Division.
“I was happy as this is what I really wanted,” he said.
It was around age four that Rebecca Arnott envisaged policing as a career.
“It was always at the back of mind,” she said. “One of my classes at Ryerson University, where I graduated with a Sociology degree, dealt with the power dynamics in inequality and issues in society. That sort of reinforced that my calling was in policing where I could make a difference in society.”
Meeting people of other backgrounds and building relationships with them were the highlight of her training.
“The instructors were also very knowledgeable and they provided many useful tips and advice that we can use as we embark on this career,” added Arnott who was a tree planter in British Columbia during the summer months and a store manager in Durham before joining Toronto Police.
She’s assigned to 41 Division.
Chief James Ramer and thanked the recruits for choosing to becoming police officers and Toronto Police.
“Whether you’re a new member, have been members of the Service in other roles or have worked with us in volunteer capacities, I’m very happy that you’ve taken this step,” he said. “You are becoming police officers at a pivotal moment in policing, at a time in which we at the Toronto Police Service have committed to reform and at a time when working respectfully and collaboratively with our communities has never been more important.”
Ramer told the graduates they are ideal candidates for this new wave of policing.
“Policing that is driven by the community for the community,” he pointed out. “Policing that requires shared responsibilities with partners trained and equipped to respond to the complex needs of a large, urban city. Policing that is not just reactive, but is always learning and listening.”
He added that being a police officer is one of the most rewarding career choices there is.
“You will have the opportunity to make enormous contributions to the lives of Torontonians every day,” Ramer told the graduating class.” It is our responsibility to make sure they have trust and confidence in us, that they feel safe in this city and secure to enjoy their daily lives. As a Service, we are continuing to take steps that demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability and to strengthening public trust. These are steps that will support you on the frontline and support the needs of our communities.”
Effective policing, the Chief reminded the class, is based on trust.
“That trust can only exist if we are delivering services that reflect the expectations of our communities, and of our members, to be treated fairly and with dignity,” he noted. “Each of you is responsible for creating a work environment that is safe, inclusive and respectful for every member of our city and of our Service. We will not accept anything less. Our commitment to each other will continue to define us as an organization. We will continue to rely on each other to sustain us through difficult challenges and to celebrate our successes.”
Sabrina Di Zazzo and Michael Farrington were the class valedictorians.
“For many of us, policing is what we have been dreaming of since we were little girls and boys,” said Di Zazzo who is assigned to 51 Division. “We have dedicated so much of our time and energy to work towards this goal. Today, dreams become reality. The word reality impacted our lives when we learned of the passing of D/Const. Jeffrey Northrup on July 2. That day, we learned how real this career is and just how unpredictable it can be.”
Alysia Wolff won the High Academic Achievement Award with a 95 per cent average.
James Karban was the recipient of the Gulshan Kassamali Diversity & Inclusion Memorial Award and Jordan Bristow received the Military Veterans Drill & Deportment Award.
Alexander Maj and Arpit Lall were the recipients of the High Performance Fitness and Most Improved Fitness honours respectively.
The recruits spent 12 weeks at the OPC and 11 weeks at TPC.
Of the 37 graduates, 23 have university degrees and 19 of them speak 26 different languages, including Farsi, Urdu, French and Tamil.