Rob Brown knew his football career wasn’t going to last forever. After 10 years playing in the Canadian Football League, three Grey Cup appearances and one championship with the 2002 Montreal Alouettes, he began thinking about what was next for him and his career. He gravitated toward the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) after going on a ride-along with some of his friends already serving on the force.”It felt like football, but on a bigger and grander scale,” Brown says with a laugh. “I kind of traded one uniform for another.”
In February 2014, after his fifth year on the force, Const. Brown began working with the School Resource Officers (SROs) Unit, a program that places uniformed EPS officers in schools to make sure that schools and surrounding areas remain safe places for students, staff and community members. Though Brown has been working at Eastglen High School for nearly two years, the impact he has made on the school through sports programs, as well as his general visible presence on and off the school campus, have made significant differences for many students and parents.
“I had absolutely no expectations going into (the SRO Unit),” Brown explains. “While I was working the patrol, I learned to observe and, from there, figure out what can be done to help. So I didn’t come in (to Eastglen) with a plan. Instead, I observed then decided what impact I could have on this school.”
The SRO program began in 1979 with a visible police presence in four schools across the city. Today, 21 schools take part in the program. It has extended even further out of the schools and into the communities where the schools are located.
“Kids go off campus a lot during lunch and visit the businesses around the school and can get involved in crime off campus,” Brown explains. “I treat this like a beat and I include the whole neighbourhood. I visit the shops and places kids go off-campus and make sure everyone in the community knows that I’m here to help.”
Brown’s presence on and off the campus doesn’t just instill trust from the community, but from the students as well. He points out that getting to know the students he works with helps them trust him and know that, if they need to approach him with information, the conversations stay confidential and the kids are safe to open up.
“Even standing in the hallways and asking, ‘Hey, how did your test go?’ or, ‘How did the game go this week?’ goes a long way,” Brown says. “That acknowledgement and understanding of the hardships of being in high school really helps them open up when they come to me for help.” Before Const. Bruce McGregor joined the EPS in 2007, he spent many years working with juvenile offenders through organizations like The John Howard Society and the Howard House, which is an open-custody group home that helps young offenders reintegrate into the community. For him, joining the EPS and the SRO Unit was a natural progression, but the school he was offered to patrol threw him off a bit.
“They offered me Victoria School of the Arts and I wasn’t sure if I was the right fit,” McGregor explains. “I grew up playing sports in Spruce Grove – what do I know about the arts? But once I got here, I found where I fit and how best I could help very quickly.”
Officers working in the SRO program can take on different portfolios that help them increase their knowledge in certain areas applicable to their patrols. McGregor currently holds two portfolios; one in mental health and one in LGBT issues. He says that, coming into his position with Victoria School of the Arts, he didn’t know much about issues faced by many LGBT students. But, through his work with the school’s gay-straight alliance, he says that the students have helped him as much as he helps them.
Through acts above and beyond the call of duty, like participating in the school’s national anti-bullying day fundraiser by having his nails painted pink and attending school plays out-of-uniform with his family, McGregor has worked to show he’s more than just an officer patrolling the halls. And the school has shown him he’s a more than just a police officer – he’s part of the school’s larger community.
McGregor served for two years in the EPS’s Southwest Division alongside Const. Daniel Woodall. During the week in June after Woodall was killed in the line of duty, McGregor’s office door was covered in messages of support and sympathy for his fallen ally. Whole classes made cards for him, and each door handle throughout the school had a blue ribbon on it.”Those things always hit close to home,” says McGregor. “But I feel well supported here.”
Despite best efforts, the SRO program has been involved in controversy. In 2008, Eastglen’s SRO at the time, Const. Dennis Lewis, responded to a fight in the school’s parking lot and was kicked in the head by David Patton, who was 22 years old at the time. A second officer, Const. Frank Quaidoo, came to Lewis’s aid but was then accused by Patton of punching him in the head in the back of a squad car after Patton was arrested. The incident garnered some media attention, but Quaidoo was found not guilty of all charges in 2011.
For Brown, the ultimate goal is to see every kid who walks through the halls of Eastglen find his or her passion and graduate. But when his policing duties call for action inside the school, he’s constantly reassured that he’s respected and understood when he meets face-to-face with students and parents.
“I try to keep arrests minimal, but sometimes I have to take a kid into custody,” Brown says. “I try to make something positive come of the arrest and have the kids and the parents understand why the arrest happened to try and prevent any future trouble. I want to mentor and lead these kids and show them where they could go and what they could be.I think about all the mentors I had, the coaches and sergeants that led me to here, and I want to pay it forward.”