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Women breaking into the RNC’s upper ranks at slow pace

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Chief of Police Joe Boland and operational patrol services Insp. Sharon Warren at RNC Provincial Headquarters at Fort Townshend in St. John’s.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Chief of Police Joe Boland and operational patrol services Insp. Sharon Warren at RNC Provincial Headquarters at Fort Townshend in St. John’s. - Joe Gibbons

But more promotions expected to come their way

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has few women in its upper ranks — only two in management roles and six more above the rank of constable, but they’re rising up and it shouldn’t be long before there’s finally a female chief.

“Hmm, good question, maybe when I retire,” Chief Joe Boland said when asked when he figures a woman will hold the top job.

However, if it’s someone from within the RNC’s ranks, it may not happen that soon — there are currently no female superintendents and there has never been a female deputy chief, so that might be too big of a leap after Boland. 

“But that said, the quality of the female officers that we have in the organization, that day is coming,” Boland said.

An access to information request from The Telegram shows the breakdown of men and women in the ranks, by position — there are six women above the rank of constable and below the rank of inspector (the first step on the RNC management or commissioned officer ladder). With two inspectors, that makes eight women above constable, or about 11 per cent of the commissioned and non-commissioned officer ranks, despite the fact women now comprise 30 per cent of the RNC’s total membership of almost 400 officers. Of those 400, there are 71 commissioned and non-commissioned officers (those ranking above sergeant), including 12 commissioned officers (inspector and above).

There are no women above the rank of constable in Corner Brook. There are two female sergeants in Labrador.

The idea was to compare the breakdown to 10 and 20 years ago, but the RNC simply couldn’t supply that information, as it wasn’t tracked that way in previous years. A search through the RNC’s annual reports back to 2008-09 shows the RNC recording the numbers by male and female, but not breaking down the ranks. In 2008-09, women comprised 19 per cent of the force.

In 2016-17, the RNC began breaking down the sexes statistically by commissioned and non-commissioned officers and constables. By that time, 28 per cent of the total officers were women, and only 14 per cent of the commissioned officers were women, while eight per cent of the non-commissioned officers were women.

“I don’t think we understood the purpose of us understanding what our community looked like,” Boland said of why the gender breakdown wasn’t tracked very well before.

“I just think it’s all evolved.”

The RNC won’t move someone up just to get the numbers more in tune. The candidates — male or female — have to excel in the promotions process.

“What I will say is that the quality of the officers we hired and what we are seeing within our most accountable units in the RNC, I think it’s safe for me to say that demographic within the organization — when I am looking at supervision and management  — you will see significant shift over the next number of years. And I don’t mean long term, but I am talking about the short term here,” Boland said.

The RNC ramped up its recruitment efforts in 2005 — the first year of the Memorial University class after the force terminated its training agreement with the Atlantic Police Academy in P.E.I.

Aiming for more diversity, including women and the Indigenous community, doesn’t give those candidates an automatic in — they still have to pass the entrance qualifications and training. But the more diverse candidates who apply, the more likely there will be a diverse cadet pool.

WOMEN PROMINENT IN MAJOR UNITS

The RNC is currently running a competition for non-commissioned officers and just finished one for commissioned officers.

Boland said women are front and centre in the most prominent RNC units and positioned to thrive.

The major crime unit has four male investigators and nine female investigators, and both a male and female sergeant.

In the intimate partner violence unit, there are three female officers.

The child abuse and sexual assault unit (CASA) has six female officers supervised by a male officer.

Boland, who was the training officer when the first MUN class came through, said there’s also a gap between a bump of officers who are eligible to retire and those with 15 or less years of service. This has to do with the recruitment drives the RNC has had in recent years versus earlier stagnation — from 1991-2000, the RNC did no hiring and laid off almost 100 members. 
Boland has 37 years in, and the upper ranks of the RNC all have more than three decades in. In all, there are 65 officers who can now retire. 

"I think it’s safe for me to say that demographic within the organization — when I am looking at supervision and management  — you will see significant shift over the next number of years." — Chief Joe Boland

“So, over the next number of years these positions are going to become vacant and those promotions then are going to have to start getting down into the people who joined back in 2005-06 and onward,” Boland said.

Another factor that has shaped the ranks is officers who stayed on longer after the 1990s reversal of a policy that once required retirement after 25 years.

In the early 1980s, when the RNC expanded its jurisdiction, there were a number of new hires, and with the forced retirements, some people were subsequently able to move up quicker.

When Boland went through the Atlantic Police Academy in Charlottetown, P.E.I.,  in 1982, it was the biggest class ever to get hired by the RNC, he said. But among the 47, there were only four women. 

“I think it’s fair to say that our community has changed and I think that when you look at this current class that’s coming through, we have 27, hopefully, that will graduate here in July and that’s a very diverse class,” Boland said.

“I think we are headed in the right direction here. We have listened. We have learned,” he said.

“I am proud of where we have come from and where we are today.”

RNC STAR
Insp. Sharon Warren, one of the stars rising in the RNC, always wanted to be a police officer while growing up in St. Brendan’s, Bonavista Bay.

Sharon Warren, now an inspector with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, with her 2010 police woman of the year award from the International Association of Women Police.
Sharon Warren, now an inspector with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, with her 2010 police woman of the year award from the International Association of Women Police.

There were only two female recruits sent by the RNC to Holland College in 1988 and she was one of them. When they joined the force, they brought the female officers’ numbers up to 25.

“We only hired females in 1980,” Warren said of the RNC.

The reaction when she showed up at the public’s door as a patrol officer was often, “Oh, you’re a woman.”

Early on, Warren hadn’t thought of advancing.

“It was funny when I walked in the door if someone asked that question, I would say I would love to be sergeant or staff sergeant — that was within my grasp of who I was dealing with every day and within where I saw myself. When I came in, I was 22 and a little naïve,” she said. “I don’t really think that really entered my mind for a while. You get in, learn, develop, try to figure out what kind of an officer you want to be.”

Many women in general also tend to not demonstrate the same self-assurance as men, she noted. 

“Most of the time we kind of hold ourselves back. It was not that you were told you weren’t good enough or you couldn’t do something. It was your own personal perception. As a female, I think we all do that to ourselves,” she said. 

She married fellow officer Tom Warren, promoted to inspector the same day as her in 2017 and currently on a post to Labrador — and they have raised four children. 

“You are going to miss Christmas, birthdays, celebrations, so we had to find a schedule that worked for us where the kids would have one parent as much as possible,” Warren said. “He was very encouraging. There were times I would be, ‘Do I really want to move up any further?’ and he would be, 'Go for it.'”

While family life and joint decisions shaped their career paths, Warren emphasized that no one on the force held her back.

“I chose the path I went through. I decided I couldn’t put myself in certain places or areas because I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to be a wife and I wanted that family life and I wanted stability,” Warren said.

“When it came time to start looking at where do I see myself in a couple of years, where do I see myself in five years, 10 years, that is when you start reflecting. But you have to put yourself out there.

“Your  chances are as good as anybody else’s – it is about your skills, about your experiences, about what you are willing to put in to the promotional process."

She spent 14 years in the criminal investigation division, most of it in the child abuse-sexual assault unit, and then moved to major crime.

PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH JUSTICE

Current Insp. Sharon Warren at a downtown St. John's crime scene in 2003.
Current Insp. Sharon Warren at a downtown St. John's crime scene in 2003.

Warren’s natural empathy when dealing with the public has been enhanced by personal tragedy.

Her two brothers were murdered within six months of each other — in July 1994 and January 1995 — one smothered and struck over the head and the other stabbed. 

“And so, it was really hard opening that door, being on that side of the door to receive the death notification. … Going through the investigation and the court process," she said. 

"You are in the justice system and working within it and believe in it. At that point in time, it’s now hit home. So, I had to get over that piece of it and reconnect and build my trust again in the justice system for me to do the best job I could do.”

Because of it, she understands better than most how to deal with the families of victims.

“And so if I am not able to lay a charge on your behalf and you really want that charge, I am going to explain to you why I can’t do that, what I can and what you are going to face when you go through the court system. I think that because of my personal experiences it has made me the type of police officer I want to be. But it came from a very horrendous time of my life,” Warren said. 

CHANGE IS COMING

Warren, who became a sergeant in 2012, moved back into operational patrol services, mentoring front-line officers coming up.

“The biggest piece of being a supervisor is communication — own up to something if you made a bad decision. … If I have to take some disciplinary action then I am going to explain to you why that needs to be taken. And you are going to learn from it, and we are both going to move forward. … You lead by example,” Warren said.

“My job is to mentor and to guide and make sure the officers coming behind me bring out the best they can be. … As long as I feel I am making a difference and enjoy coming to work and know that I can promote others to carry this organization forward, I will be here.”

Warren, a past recipient of the YWCA’s women of distinction award and the 2010 International Association of Women Police officer of the year, agrees the shape of the RNC will change drastically in coming years.

She plans to stay on another four or five years at least, and hasn’t ruled out going further.

“Statistically, of course we are going to have a female leader of this organization. When that is — it took us a while to get here — may be a while and closer than you think,” she said.

Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets

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