Detective Sergeant Tiffany Castell has always challenged herself in her career.
The first Black woman to become a permanent member of the Homicide and Missing Persons unit and one of its youngest ever Detective Sergeants has made history as the first Toronto Police officer to be recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as one of the Top 40 Under-40 law enforcement professionals in the world.
The global award recognizes sworn and civilian employees who are motivated to lead their agencies into the future and who encourage their colleagues to grow professionally and personally while striving to make communities safer and more inclusive.
The recognition bestowed on Castell does not surprise Homicide and Missing Persons unit commander Inspector Hank Idsinga.
“In a relatively short time with the unit, Tiffany has proven herself repeatedly as an excellent investigator, team leader and ambassador for Toronto Police Service,” he said. “She brings intensity, passion, commitment and dedication to work every day. As a Major Case manager and team leader, her team has enjoyed considerable success, resolving challenging and complex investigations. This comes as a result of her leadership and dedication to the resolution of her cases.”
Detective Sergeant Brandon Price nominated Castell for the honour.
“Throughout her career, Tiffany has skillfully fulfilled her assigned duties, including the uniform frontline supervisor role, the Divisional investigator position, as a Service-wide Homicide Detective and Detective Sergeant,” he said. “She always demonstrates her commitment beyond her role in each and every position. She is amongst the best and brightest at the Toronto Police Service.”
Castell is still trying to come to grips with the significance of the recognition.
“Just to be nominated by one of my colleagues who thought I was deserving of this and took the time to put together the nomination package is something that I am really humbled by,” she said. “When I got the IACP email in late July, I was in complete shock when it said congrats and I was selected as one of the 40 honourees. I don’t think the magnitude of this has really hit me as yet. It is slowly starting to sink in. What stands out for me is that I work with so many outstanding people and to have our Service put on a world stage with me as the face of that is not lost on me.”
Before making any calls to share the good news, Castell took a moment to reflect on what the accolade would have meant to her mother.
Charlene Castell, a passionate volunteer and mental health advocate, passed away in September 2015.
“Mom is the first person I would have called,” said Castell. “I was just thinking about how she would have jumped out of the couch and scream. She was my biggest cheerleader. She always told me that things should get better with each generation and that is my responsibility to carry on my family’s legacy. I carry that with me all the time as motivation.
“After I thought about what her reaction would have been, I called dad who is also supportive, my maternal aunt who has admirably filled the gap left after my mom died and has helped me from a personal development standpoint and my best friend, who is on the job. All of them gave me that thing that mom would have given me as they are always championing me like most of my colleagues at work.”
Policing was not on her radar as a young child growing up in the Malvern community, aspiring to be a teacher or lawyer.
“I grew up as an Air Cadet and loved the military drill, deportment, the uniform, the pride in service and discipline,” she said. “It was not until I got to the University of Ottawa to do my undergraduate degree in Social Science and I did all these criminology courses did I fall in love with the law and policing.”
While in Ottawa, she worked in loss prevention and did a summer internship with Ottawa Police Service.
“Even after meeting wonderful police officers and working in a law enforcement environment, I still was not considering policing as a career,” said Castell, who has two younger brothers. “Just as I was completing school, I got a customer service job at a bank and recognized very quickly that was not something I would pursue as a career.”
Encouraged many times by family members, friends and police officers she interacted with, she decided to give it a shot.
“I only applied to Toronto. This is the city I was born and raised in and I love,” she noted. “This is the city that offered my family the promise of a new life after they migrated from Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica. This is where my people are. There was no other choice.”
She found a mentor in policing from the moment she arrived to training where now-retired Inspector Sonia Thomas was a staff sergeant.
“I remember being so in awe of her,” she said, of the first Black woman to become a senior officer at the Toronto Police Service in 2010. “Her kindness, compassion and the way she treated everyone with professionalism stood out. I wanted to emulate that.”
Hired in December 2006, Castell started at 54 Division. She also served at 52 Division, in the Drug Squad and 55 Division before being promoted to sergeant in 2015 and going to 51 Division.
While at 51 Division, her partner, Detective Sergeant Ted Lioumanis, joined the Homicide unit and urged her to do the same.
“At the time, I was pregnant with my son and said no,” she said. “After having my boy the next year and going back to work, Ted insisted. Still thinking I was not ready because I had a young child, I had a conversation with my aunt who told me I could do anything I want to and we are going to be here to support you. She said, ‘If Homicide is what you want to do, go off there and we will figure it out.’
Working alongside ‘some of the best investigative minds in Canada,’ Castell said homicide investigations are challenging and complex, but rewarding.
“It is difficult work, but one that is so important,” she noted. “The victims and their families, who are helpless in the circumstances, have to rely on us and trust us to investigate and seek justice for their family and loved one. It is a responsibility that rests heavily on my shoulders, but one that I carry with a lot of pride.”
Investigating a homicide involving innocent victims and engaging with grieving family members who are overwhelmed with emotions are the hardest part of Castell’s job.
“I have had a number of shootings where I am sitting with several family members and to see the depth of hurt,” she said, of the motivation behind her work.
It did not take Castell long to find out that the inability to solve a crime and close a case are the most frustrating aspects of a Homicide investigator’s job.
“Coming to Homicide, I thought I was here to investigate and all I have to be is the best and the brightest, work hard and we are going to solve these cases,” she said. “The reality of the situation is that if I don’t have witnesses, DNA or video, I can’t solve the case. I remember saying to a family member that I wish it was about my talent, but that is not enough.”
Even though she has accomplished a lot in her 16-year policing career, Castell is passionate about higher learning.
Completing a Master of Arts in Leadership from the University of Guelph in November 2020, she is in the second year of a PhD in Education program at Western University.
“My research focus is around leadership and gender equity,” said Castell, who co-authored a book that is required reading for students enrolled in George Brown College’s Personal & Professional Development course. “I don’t have any interest in teaching, but I selected this program to marry my professional experience with the academic literature and empirical data to create strategies and change processes and systems to increase equity, diversity, inclusion and transparency in our promotional processes and hiring. That is the aim from a professional standpoint.”
From a personal angle, her second stint in school goes back to the family legacy. Her mother the first in their family to graduate with a university degree and she wanted to be take the next step with a graduate degree.
Volunteering and giving back to community are things Castell takes seriously.
At 51 Division, she collaborated with the Toronto Fashion Academy to develop a one-month summer program for youth between the ages of 11 and 17.
Pro Action Cops & Kids, the largest private funder for Toronto Police programs for youths, partially supported the initiative held over three summers.
Exposed to fashion workshops in high fashion make-up, photography, modeling and styling, the youth were given an opportunity to choose one and explore it with industry professionals.
At the end, they compiled a portfolio that could be used for internships.
“I am on the fashionista side in that I like my colours and patterns and sort of have that creative gene,” she said. “I wanted to create something that was unique because there are many sports and technology programs. I wanted something where youth could come and connect with other youth and police officers and explore their creativity in a safe, inclusive and positive environment.”
Castell also volunteers with the Critical Incident Response Team as a Peer Support Worker, helping support officers through traumatic calls they have responded to at work.
Over the years, she has had the support of officers who have helped advance her career.
Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue and retired Detective Constable Anita Mancuso are among that group.
“They were instrumental in me getting into undercover and drug work and specialized investigations,” she said. “They were huge mentors, sponsors and inspirations for me.”
She also credited trailblazing Black officers retired Sergeant Terry James and Deputy Chief Keith Forde for their support at the start of their career.