Tales from the Beat

Two memoirs give a glimpse into the lives of women police officers.

Two women, two careers in law enforcement, two autobiographies chronicling their experiences, two life stories that could not be more different.

I must admit that when I was approached to review these two books, I made an assumption that both authors would explore the experiences of women breaking ground in a traditional male profession. I hoped to read about their challenges, their resolve, their victories and their lessons learned. I now feel a bit chastened. My assumption was an example of the type of stereotyping that I have fought against for years.

In my own defence, let me say that the editor who approached me for this assignment suggested that I might be a good choice to do this because of my own background as one of the first three women in the province of Ontario to work as a correctional officer (jail guard) in the male correctional system. A couple of years ago, for the same reason, I had been asked to do a review in these pages of an autobiography of a woman carpenter and journey­woman in the construction industry in British Columbia.

Crime Seen: From Patrol Cop to Profiler, My Stories from Behind the Yellow Tape by Kate Lines and Damage Done: A Mountie’s Memoir by Deanna Lennox were both published soon after the release of Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps’s explosive report on the treatment of women in the Canadian military. Deschamps has documented what she describes as a “hostile sexualized environment.” Her findings detail behaviour that includes everything from swearing and sexual innuendo to “dubious relationships” between low-ranking women and high-ranking men. It also includes rape. “At the most extreme, these reports of sexual violence highlighted the use of sex to enforce power relationships,” says Deschamps, “and to punish and ostracize a member of a unit.”

So I began reading, sure that I would find echoes of my own work experiences and a detailing of poisoned workplace environments similar to Deschamps’s description of the Canadian military.

Not so.

While both authors make passing reference to incidents that stem from co-worker sexism, they tell their stories from their own perspectives, and focus on the things that are important to them. They tell us about the good and the bad of what they saw, experienced and sometimes struggled to deal with. One story is of a career of accomplishments that has left a profound legacy in the infrastructure of law enforcement and criminal profiling across Canada and beyond. The other is the story of a journey through the debilitating effects of work ­experience–induced post-traumatic stress disorder and the return to health of the author and the countless other first responders she has helped through her legacy contribution in founding the War Horse Foundation.

Let me be among the first to celebrate these women and their accomplishments and to congratulate them on their books and on telling their own story in their own way. Although I still read and interpreted their life narratives as a gender analysis, my own experiences provided context. This context may or may not be theirs.

Given the individual nature of the two books, they deserve separate treatment.

The author of Crime Seen, Kate Lines, grew up in rural Ontario. A brief description of her early years leaves me picturing an idyllic farm community with a relatively uncomplicated and richly textured family life for Kate, her siblings and parents. After her graduation from the University of Toronto Mississauga, she used her studies of psychology and criminology to pursue entry into the profession of policing. At the age of 21, she applied for and was recruited into the Ontario Provincial Police. After 33 years in the OPP, marked by numerous prestigious awards and honours for her contributions to Canadian law enforcement, Lines is now a private investigator and expert consultant to such well-known TV productions as Flashpoint and Rookie Blue.

Her book chronicles her policing life from uniform patrol to undercover narc, then to the fraud and major crimes squad. She gained expertise in criminal profiling, going on to develop and head up the OPP’s Behavioural Sciences Section, then becoming the first female director of the Intelligence Bureau and later the chief superintendent of the Investigation and Support Bureau. Along the way she experienced adrenalin rushes, burnout, revival, relationship breakdown, accolades and promotions. Her humble and matter-of-fact account of her rapid advancement goes by as fast as a thrown stone skips across the surface of a pond.

The most in-depth treatment Lines provides is of her journey through the world of violent crimes and criminal profiling. She was the second Canadian to complete the FBI’s criminal profiling program, graduating from the National Academy in Quantico, Virginia (the first was a member of the RCMP who graduated a few months before her). Her description of her descent into the sub-­basement of the National Academy where its Behavioral Sciences Unit was housed parallels her descent into the world of horrendous violent crimes.

Over the years Lines was central to investigations and support for prosecutions in notorious cases involving missing and murdered victims such as Marie-France Comeau, Tori Stafford, Christopher Stephenson, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffey. Her profiling looked into the dark psyches of such cold-blooded murderers as Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams and the previously convicted pedophile and psychopath Joseph Fredericks. Lines gives us some sense of the investigations of these and other well-known cases that she was involved in over the years, but I found myself wanting more from her. To be fair, each of these cases has been the subject of whole books and perhaps her oaths of office, concerns over the security of intelligence, operational tradecraft and issues of privacy constrained Lines in her writing. However, her lack of depth in exploring these cases as well as her somewhat light treatment of her various career advancements, personal challenges, moments of pride, sadness, indeed any really intense feelings, left me curious to know much more about this remarkable woman.

My interest in Lines’s experience as a woman in this male-dominated work culture meant I found myself paying special attention to a few almost throw-away lines. For example, she asked an OPP officer who interviewed her as part of her initial recruitment what he thought of women being police officers. He responded, “I don’t think you have any place being an officer in the OPP. I don’t think any women do.” There is also a passing reference to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s disdain for female agents. I think that for Lines, who early on adapted to the culture, and describes herself as becoming part of a family, the issues related to gender and sexism may not have been central to the way she experienced her OPP career.

However, I suspect that for her, and for many other women who were early entrants in their chosen careers, she simply coped and always wanted to be defined by the quality of her work and not her gender. I glean this sense from the last handful of pages in the book where Lines gives a summary of her career posting and her “leave behinds.” We have much to thank Lines for in the development of policing in Ontario, Canada and abroad. She established the OPP’s Behavioural Sciences Section and developed the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS), a major cross-force investigative technological tool. She was a leader in the launch of the Missing Persons and Unidentified Bodies website, the Ontario Sex Offender Registry, the Threat Assessment Unit, the Research Unit and the Criminal Profiling Unit. It is, however, when she speaks of the expanding role of women in the force that one gets the sense that although always humble, she does understand her contribution to the progress of women in policing.

Describing the 1,200 women officers working alongside their 6,100 uniformed brethren at the time of her retirement, Lines details the variety of specialized roles and command positions held by women. She pays tribute to other women leaders in the force and observes, “women in the OPP knew there were limitless opportunities for them to pursue their dream jobs and promotions to the highest rank, including commissioner. When the next woman fills that position, she will follow in the footsteps of Gwen Boniface who in 1998 became the OPP’s twelfth commissioner, and first woman to achieve that rank.”

Deanna Lennox, author of Damage Done, was young, athletic and anti-authoritarian when she was accepted into the RCMP. Perhaps it was that streak of independence that would set the context for the challenges she experienced in dealing with the RCMP’s power-centric, paramilitary culture of command and control.

What we all know now from the reports produced by numerous studies and investigations into the RCMP’s administrative hierarchy and policy breaches, including many issues related to the treatment of women in the force, Lennox experienced firsthand. She spent years searching for, finding and sharing healing strategies for first responders from police, military personnel, fire fighters and corrections officers to social workers and others, suffering from trauma.

Lennox’s first years in policing were in small to medium-sized detachments in southern Alberta and Prince George. Several chapters of her book are devoted to vignettes from her policing experience. Some are funny, some exciting, some banal, one at least life threatening. She started as a patrol cop, then worked undercover investigating drugs and organized crime. She saw violence, experienced alienation in the workplace, grew hard edged and cynical. She began to lose herself.

On a dark night near midnight, on a single lane bridge, Lennox came across a vehicle appearing to be abandoned or in need of a tow. She was alone in her patrol car but did not sense anything of concern that would cause her to call for backup. She left her car only to encounter two felons appearing out from behind their truck and coming for her. Time slowed. She knew she was alone and in trouble. She did not respond. She did not pull her weapon. But for the chance arrival of another cruiser that just happened to come around the curve, causing the two men to run off, she was a few seconds away from probable death.

She responded with anger, and was then ruled by this anger and by hatred. She was angry at herself for not responding, not radioing for help, not drawing her gun and angry at the two men. She began to hold all those around her, and herself, in contempt. It was the start of trauma taking hold of her and her life.

On another occasion while on the job, she was exposed to gunshot blasts without hearing protection. She suffered the onset of tinnitus and the beginning of progressive hearing loss. It also marked the beginning of the end of her policing career.

These two events, combined with hostile work experiences as well as an uncaring and hostile response from her command structure, led Lennox to experience multiple medical leaves, workplace grievances, punishing work assignments and the development of post-traumatic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The other half of Lennox’s story is one of the long road to recovery and her quest to help others who have faced similar issues.

Horses were her salvation—horses and helping others. She began therapeutic interventions with horses, caring for, grooming and training them. But it was the horses who were providing the therapy. First Lennox experienced a calming sensation, a lowering of blood pressure and a release of stress. She then describes the gradual decompression, the management of her anger, the regaining of the ability to connect with others and the slow rebuilding of her family relationships.

Perhaps more importantly, she discovered the need and desire to help others. From organizing her first conference for stress injured first responders, she has gone on to establish the War Horse Foundation and, with others, build a broad network of support for those front line workers suffering with PTSD, addiction, anger management and depression.

Although once again the issues of workplace sexism are not absolutely central to her story, Lennox refers to a number of overt sexist incidents and the overall culture of the RCMP that is so often hostile to women. But like Kate Lines she does not want her experience to be defined by her gender. She comments that most women in policing dislike being referred to as women officers. After all, she quips, how many times do you see a headline reading “Male Officer Makes Arrest”?

It is also painfully clear that PTSD and other stress injuries know no gender. It is a wide and diverse community of recovering sufferers who Lennox and those survivors who have joined her in the War Horse Foundation have chosen to dedicate themselves to.