It took leaps and bounds for Halima Yousif to become a Toronto Police Constable but her journey became with thousands of small steps.
During a three-day walk from her home in Turkey to Greece, the-then four-year-old lost her shoes and suffered severe cuts to the bottom of her feet.
Bruised and tired, she was among those rescued by Greek police officers who carried her for the latter part of the journey.
“The kindness of those policemen had an impact on me and I think that is when I said policing is what I would like to do when I grew up,” said Yousif, who lived in Greece eight more years before coming to Canada.
Yousif was among 88 new Toronto Police Service (TPS) recruits presented with their badges at the October 21 graduation ceremony at Toronto Police College.
She said her classmates were very helpful during the intense training program that started last May.
“It was tough sometimes understanding the material, but they used their time after class to assist me,” Yousif said. “They pushed me to a point where I got tired on a few occasions, but they insisted I keep going so that I could be up to speed. They are just incredible and caring people.”
She was an Auxiliary member at 22 Division and a Special Constable at headquarters before becoming a Constable.
“These experiences prepared me for the role that I am in now,” said Yousif, who volunteered with Halton Women’s Place and was an Educational Assistant with the Halton District School Board. “I am a single mom with three kids ranging in age from 13 to 19 and I thought this was a perfect time to be a police officer as they are a bit older.”
She is going to 13 Division.
For Yoonchul ‘David’ Um, a small brush with the kindness of an officer also left an impression on him.
At age five shortly after migrating to Canada with his family, he attended a York Regional Police Service Open House in Markham.
“I didn’t speak much English then and an officer with the motor unit noticed me and put me on his motorcycle,” he recalled. “He let me play with the siren and my mom captured the moment with her camera. That has always stuck with me and that photo remains one of my prized possessions.”
In high school, Um made up his mind he was going to be a police officer and started working to achieve goal.
“Ever since then, most of my professional experiences have been centered around law enforcement and public safety,” he said.
Reflecting on the 25-week preparation leading up to graduation, he said he relished every aspect, particularly the scenario training.
“I enjoyed that part the most and the fact that a lot of it emphasized de-escalation which, from a public perspective, is something people don’t always think about when they think about policing,” he said, of using negotiation tactics rather than force. “I was really surprised by the amount of training that Toronto Police invests to make sure their officers are well prepared to do their jobs. As a new recruit, that really impressed me.”
Toronto Police was the only Service Um applied to.
“I have worked in this city for most of my life, so I have a good sense of the communities we have here in Toronto,” he said. “The diversity is second to none and this is where I want to be.”
Um, who won the High Academic Achievement Award with a mark of 98 per cent, is assigned to 51 Divison.
During the latter part of the graduates training, four Canadian police officers have been killed in the line of duty, including Toronto Traffic Services Constable Andrew Hong.
At his last graduation ceremony before retirement in December, Chief James Ramer told the class that policing ‘is a job like no other.’
“I think it is particularly important to recognize this truth today following the line of duty deaths of three officers in Ontario in recent weeks and that of an RCMP Constable in British Columbia earlier this week,” he said. “While these tragic incidents are still statistically rare, putting on your uniform each day is answering a call of duty that sometimes, even in the briefest interaction, can put you in harm’s way. This profession can come at a terrible cost and with great sacrifice. Our commitment to you is to continue to provide you with the best training possible to allow you to react appropriately and confidently in the most challenging of circumstances.”
In thanking the graduates for choosing TPS, Ramer said the diversity they bring to their new role is pivotal at this moment in policing.
Several members of the new class were born outside Canada and 21 of them speak multiple languages, including French, Spanish, Cantonese, German, Hindi, Korean and Bulgarian.
“It is vital our members reflect the people and the communities they serve and, as police officers in Toronto, you are now serving the citizens of the most diverse city in the world,” he said. “I have every confidence in your ability to serve with professionalism, with integrity and according to our core values. As Chief, I can tell you that it is a privilege to work in policing and to wear our uniform.
“We have the best trained and most competent police officers in Canada who perform their roles in arguably the most difficult and complex environment in this country. We are recognized internationally and respected as a leader in policing because of the quality of our people which now includes all of you.”
To maintain public trust, Ramer reminded the new recruits to hold themselves and each other accountable on and off the job.
“Ask yourselves if the actions you are taking during the course of your duties reflect the expectations of our communities and of colleagues, to be treated fairly and with dignity,” he added. “Ask yourselves everyday if you have done all you can to support one another, your community and your organization. Be part of what makes this Service great and know that I have every confidence that you will.”
Mayor John Tory underlined the importance of the day.
“This is a big day for you and your families,” added the TPSB Board member. “This ceremony today marks the start of your Toronto Police Service career that will positively impact the lives of many, including yourselves and it will make a big difference in our city.”
In welcoming the newcomers to the policing family, Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) Chair Jim Hart told them they are now part of an organization comprising professional and dedicated individuals.
“It is a talented and committed team, renowned and respected internationally,” he said. “And as you will soon find, it is most certainly a family. You should feel honoured and privileged to stand among those who you now join. As our newest members, we welcome your contribution as to how we can serve the public most effectively, most efficiently and most compassionately.”
The deaths of four police officers in the line of duty recently, said Hart, serve as a reminder of the tremendous role TPS officers play in keeping the city safe and the great sacrifices they make.
“Each of you take an oath to serve and protect the members of our community diligently and with dedication despite the very real risks inherent in a profession premised on ensuring the safety of the public,” he said. “Know that we are so grateful for the risks you have now chosen to take every single day to keep this city safe. Know that your incredible dedication to duty is valued by the members of our communities. We do not take the significant risks you take daily on our behalf lightly. We thank you sincerely for your service, for your courage and for your commitment.
After completing law school at the University of Alberta, Maria Lyubchenko considered her options.
“For many people, police are the first and, sometimes only contact with the law,” she said. “It seemed to me that it is a more personable career and you get to represent something bigger. That was what prompted me to pursue a policing career.”
After practicing for six months as a criminal lawyer, Lyubchenko, who left Russia 16 years ago, made the switch.
She said the training in the last couple of months was intense and inspiring.
“It was an escalating learning curve and it was good to see yourself improve,” said Lyubchenko, who was a Booker at 51 Division for two years – a role where she oversaw the handling of prisoners. “Things become natural as you progress through it.”
She is assigned to 22 Division.
Just over a year ago, Christopher Gowey was giving orders to members of four platoons he oversaw as a Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard officer.
Gowey applied to Toronto Police and was accepted four months after joining his wife in the Greater Toronto Area last October.
Gowey enjoyed the 12-week demanding training at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer and the nine weeks spent at the Toronto Police College.
“The physical aspect was very manageable,” he pointed out. “As a newcomer to Canada, my biggest challenge was grasping the provincial laws. I did a lot of reading and researching and my classmates were a tremendous help. They ensured that I was not left behind.”
Soon after coming to Canada, Gowey observed the difference in policing in the two countries.
“I could see there was a lot of positive interaction here between officers and community members,” the University of Technology graduate and former Caribbean Maritime University lecturer said. “It is about community building and changing hearts and minds which is what I really like. I have always believed there is more to effective policing than making arrests and using force.”
Gowey is assigned to 55 Division.
As a personal trainer, Xin Rao enjoyed helping people reach fitness levels.
However, he felt he could have a bigger impact on lives if given a larger platform.
The 2016 Carleton University Computer Science graduate found that with Toronto Police.
“After one of my co-workers got into policing, I witnessed some of the good things she was doing and how happy she was in her job,” Rao, who was born in China and has been a Canadian resident since 2010, said. “That was when I decided I wanted to be a police officer.”
Rao is assigned to 55 Division.
Several awards were presented at the graduation ceremony.
Anthony Polizos, who took the lead role in the restoration of two benches at 12 Division memorializing Todd Baylis who was killed in the line of duty in 1994, was the recipient of the Harry Mayzell Leadership Award.
Kathryn Papaconstantinou captured the High Performance in Fitness Award, Omar Hardtman won the Most Improved Fitness Award, Peter Stanav was recognized for Drill, Dress & Deportment and Nicole Powankumar was presented the Gulshan Kassamali Diversity & Inclusion Award.
The Glen Cole Memorial Award was presented to class valedictorian Damien Selvakumaran.
“By being here today, we have all proven how much we are capable of by choosing to make a difference, whether it be in our own lives or someone else’s,” he said. “This graduation is not the end of our journey. It is just the mere beginning. It is never about the destination. It is about the journey that builds character.”
The graduates range in age from 21 to 49 and a total of 16 worked previously in TPS roles, including District Special Constable, Parking Enforcement and Communications.
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