Jaime McCabe learned at an early age about the struggles victims can have navigating the police system.
“I come from a big policing family, and I was always aware of these things, hearing stories from my dad,” said the Sarnia Police Sergeant. “I always looked at crimes like domestic violence and thought to myself — wow, if that victim has the strength to come forward with her story, then I want to be her voice.”
McCabe is one of only two female Sergeants on the Sarnia Police Service — the highest rank a woman has ever reached in the organization. She heads the court services division while Sgt. Daun-Mari Price leads the forensics team.
“There’s been a lack of female officers in the higher ranks,” said McCabe, who has more than 20 years policing experience, including time spent in the child abuse and sexual assault bureau with the Peel Regional Police.
“These are the barriers we are trying to break down.”
According to Statistics Canada, women accounted for 21% of all sworn officers across Canada in 2017, and continued to be increasingly represented in the higher ranks of police services. Women represented 15% of senior officers in 2017—the highest proportion ever recorded—compared with 7% in 2007 and less than 1% in 1986.
But in Sarnia, just 10% of the entire police force is female.
“Certainly, numbers are down here,” said chief Norm Hansen. “At our peak I think we were at 16%, and since that time we’ve had several retirements.
“Sarnia has never really experienced female retirements before because back in the day, there weren’t that many female officers.”
With the number of female applicants down the city is holding its first-ever female recruitment campaign, with McCabe at the helm.
“I am pretty excited about it,” Hansen said. “We’ve never done this before.”
McCabe is set to host a ‘Women in Policing’ seminar next month and the response has been overwhelming.
She had hoped for around 20 registrants, but more than 50 have signed up, prompting a second session. Both have reached capacity.
She and three other female officers from various divisions will share their stories about working in the field, in addition to providing information about the training, preparation and application process.
“I think there’s a lot to be said about the benefits of having female officers — certain attributes like empathy, and dealing with children,” McCabe said.
“Of course, many male officers have those qualities as well. But even when a woman needs to be searched, there needs to be a female officer doing that.”
McCabe said Hansen — who took over as chief earlier this year — has been one of her biggest cheerleaders.
“He’s not afraid to step out of the box and try something new for our service, which is what we need from a leader. When I approached him about this seminar, he was so supportive and encouraged me to go ahead with it.”
Hansen noted the benefits of having a more diverse organization.
“You need a cross section of people, with different personalities. We can’t all just be ‘robocop,’” he said.
“It can be very difficult for a victim to come forward, and if a woman came in to report something, and asked to speak to a female officer — we accommodate that.
“We have a competition process and try to keep things fair across the board,” he added, noting McCabe and Const. Jennifer Nantais are part of the recruitment/hiring panel.
“I don’t see any systemic barriers within the service here preventing a female from going up further. But I’m this big lug of a guy that’s never noticed any barriers, you know? That’s why it’s important to get that perspective from Jaime (McCabe) and the other women.”
There’s a lot of work to do, McCabe said. And this is just the beginning.
“I want to be able to leave here knowing that I’ve done everything I could, to make it the best working environment for my daughter to walk into.”