Tyrone Hilton eats, sleeps and breathes policing.
Promoted to Superintendent of Canada’s largest municipal service brings more responsibility that he does not mind shouldering.
Among 16 officers elevated to the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) fourth highest ranking, Hilton said the promotion is impactful.
“A Superintendent is in a position to really make an impact on others, either through my involvement with the Military Veterans, the Ceremonial Unit or as a peer support worker,” he said. “I see it as another opportunity to really engage with people. It is like having a seat at that table and an opportunity and access to more people.”
Hilton has always had a passion for policing.
“I am a people person, whether it be that kid on the street who organized the street hockey game or putting plans together for a trip,” the father of two children said. “I believe in leaving something better than you found it which, to me, is really what policing is about.”
A Service member since 1998, Hilton was with the Drug Squad at every rank, rising to Unit Commander before becoming second in command at 14 Division.
Eight years ago, he was deployed on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
Hilton worked alongside retired TPS officer Mike Byers who was in charge of Project Phoenix which was a 16-month standardized transition plan implemented by the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan to support civilian and community policing strategies in 16 police districts.
“Having the privilege to serve in a foreign country and work with other international stakeholders and to be able to wear that Toronto Police crest on my uniform is something I am extremely proud to have done,” he said. “We were highly respected by our peers and the people that were able to do that left a really good impression with others internationally.”
In 1999, Hilton joined the Chief’s Ceremonial Unit established eight years earlier. He was promoted to Commanding Officer in March 2019.
Ten of the new Superintendents will be taking up available openings on August 2 while the remainder will be on a list anticipated to move quickly.
“We need to have these people ready to go and we need to catch up from the moratorium where we are having people acting for an extensive period of time,” said Chief James Ramer. “That is going to be a slow process as we hire and create opportunities for promotion.”
He added that the new Superintendents comprise an excellent and competent group.
“We are pleased with these successful candidates and I think all of them will continue to have great careers,” said Ramer. “They should be proud of their achievements.”
With a science background, Katherine Stephenson was considering going into Forensics.
After joining the Service 22 years ago, she quickly realized modern policing comprises several aspects of public safety and gravitated to the investigative side.
Stephenson has made her mark in this field.
Last June, she was presented with a Commendation for her sterling work on a historical case.
While at 55 Division in August 2015, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police informed her that a male parolee was to be released from a Colorado prison. TPS had an outstanding warrant for that parolee from 1986, with charges including kidnapping, sexual assault and weapons possession.
Stephenson worked with the Canadian Border Service Agency, Immigration officials and the TPS Fugitive Squad to have the male returned to Canada and arrested.
During the investigation, she contacted two of the victims and convinced them to testify against the male, as the charges he served time for in Colorado were strikingly similar to those of the warrant. She prepared both cases simultaneously and supported both victims while testifying throughout the preliminary hearings.
Committed to stand trial, the man was convicted and sentenced last June to 19 years in prison.
Stephenson, who has a degree in biochemistry, recently received a message from one of the victims thanking her for the support.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your passion for a stranger,” it read. “I have never had someone fight for me the way you have. No matter what happens today, I am at an amazing place in my life and I am empowered to do whatever I want. I will continue to live my life out loud and you will forever be my angel on this earth. This stranger has become a sister friend.”
Starting at 41 Division where she spent five years, Stephenson was in the Drug Squad for almost four years before joining the Intelligence Unit in covert operations. She also served as a Criminal Investigation Bureau investigator at 55 Division and worked on a Terrorism project before being assigned to the Homicide Squad.
“I truly feel thankful for this job,” she remarked. “I am a good cop, not perfect, but always with good intentions. I care for and love people. I give everything I have to this job and always will. I am grateful for all of the opportunities this job has given me. Doors have opened and I have always sought challenging roles. I was supported by supervisors and peers and that showed me what I am capable of and the strengths I have.”
For Gregory Watts, the promotion is the culmination of hard work and collaboration.
“Nobody gets to this point on their own,” he said. “You must be a collaborative leader. I would not have been promoted past the rank of Staff Sergeant had it not being for all the people I have worked with. I am the one with the new epaulets on my shoulders, but when I think back to when I started at 41 Division on ‘B’ platoon, those are the people that started it all.”
Watts did not have to go far to look for a role model.
It was in his home.
A TPS member for 32 years, his father – Roy Watts – retired nearly 15 years ago as a Staff Sergeant.
“Though my dad didn’t talk a lot about his job when he got home or push me into the profession, it is something I always wanted to do and he supported my choice,” he said. “He told me I could be anything I want.”
As a young boy accompanying dad to police headquarters, Watts was in awe of the place in which police operations are directed.
“It just seemed so grand and regal to me,” he said. “That nobility played a huge role in me wanting to get into policing.”
As the 42 Division Unit Commander, Watts constantly tells his officers in briefings that they should never underestimate the power of a smile.
“We track tickets, arrests and all of that stuff,” he said. “I tell my officers to count how many times they go out and just say hello to citizens proactively when they are not on a call. We do such a good job making a positive difference in people’s lives when they call 9-1-1. But we need to do it when that is not the case. If you see someone standing at the street corner, there is no harm in stopping and talking with them. I want them to track that and tell me how many proactive ‘hellos’ you have given out to the community. That is what is going to help break down the barrier between the police and the community we are sworn to serve.”
Helping to create the FOCUS (Furthering Our Community by Uniting Services) model is a singular achievement he is most proud of.
FOCUS is an innovative approach led by Toronto Police, the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto & York Region that aims to reduce crime and victimization and improve community resiliency and well-being.
The model brings together the most appropriate community agencies at a weekly situation-table model to provide a targeted, wrap-around approach to the most vulnerable individuals, families and places that are experiencing heightened levels of risk in a specific geographic location.
“The light bulb went off in me when I was working to put this together,” said Watts whose parents migrated from Sri Lanka at a young age. “That was when I realized we actually made a difference and we can’t do anything alone. Nothing changes when you work in a silo. It also made me understand that any police initiative that is based on enforcement alone is unethical.”
At a very young age, Kelly Skinner knew she wanted to pursue a criminal justice career.
The goal became clear after meeting retired officer Terry James.
“She was a family friend and we would have conversations about the community and what I wanted to do,” recounted Skinner.
On an occasion, James and her husband asked if she had considered a career in policing.
“I was thinking about law and because I didn’t have that representation, that never crossed my mind as something I could do until I met her,” Skinner pointed out. “She said this is exactly what I needed to do and she was right. It was the best decision I have ever made.”
After receiving an Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) scholarship in 1996, she completed Sheridan College’s Law & Security program before entering policing in 1998.
Skinner is just the second female Black officer to attain the rank of Superintendent.
The promotion, she acknowledges, comes with new responsibilities and a seat at the table to help influence change.
“Toronto Police has provided me with many opportunities to advance and develop and I lead with passion for our members, for the Service and the community,” said the 2019 Police Exemplary Service Medal recipient.
“In this new role, I get to continue that work on a broader scale. It is very significant because representation matters. When I was hired 24 years ago, there were no Black women in senior roles. Terry brought me into the fold and was so supportive. Now that I am a Senior Officer, I will endeavor to do the same. When you have your hand up, make sure it is reaching back to assist others.”
Also promoted were Jacqueline Baus, Shane Branton, Shannon Dawson, Andrew Ecklund, Donovan Locke, Mandeep Mann, Joseph Matthews, Ishmail Musah, Brett Nicol, LeeAnn Papizewski, Angadvir Singh and Justin Vander Heyden.