A Conversation with VPD Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Wilson – Vancouver Police Foundation
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A Conversation with VPD Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Wilson

The first woman hired by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) was a matron (to care for female prisoners) in 1904 and the first policewoman, as they were then called, was hired in 1912. There are now more than 500 female officers with the VPD, including many on the senior management team. In its 135+ year history, the VPD has promoted two women to Deputy Chief Constable; Carolyn Daley held the rank from 2000 – 2003 and now Fiona Wilson has been in the rank overseeing the Investigation Division since May 2021.

The VPD’s Investigation Division investigates hundreds of complex cases each year including homicides, serious robberies and assaults, organized crime, drug trafficking, sex offences, child exploitation, domestic violence, financial crimes, cybercrimes, and more.

Recently, we were fortunate to sit down with Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Fiona Wilson for a candid conversation about women in policing, and more importantly, women in leadership roles generally. She is one of the most accomplished and decorated women in VPD history. When not at work, DCC Wilson lives in South Surrey with her husband, three children and their dog Penny.

Today, she shares with us the importance of women empowering women to step in and step up to lead. 

What is your observation about the evolution of women in law enforcement since you started your career with the VPD?

The biggest change in the last 23 years has been the sheer number of women who are now on the job. When I started in 1999, approximately 13% of our sworn members were female. Today, women account for 26% of our members. Having more women at the VPD has led to changes that have had a positive impact on achieving equity in the organization.

For example, when I was hired, my entire uniform kit was designed and made for a man. My female colleagues and I had to come up with creative ways to ensure that the uniform fit us properly. Today, both our uniforms and our equipment, including our body armour, are specifically designed for women. These are some very practical advances that we’ve made that I certainly appreciate.

We’ve also seen more women in specific policing jobs that were historically occupied by men – including the K9 Unit, the Traffic Unit and, importantly, senior management positions. The more women that are hired into the VPD, the more we’ll continue to have women fill these important roles.

There are many women currently in leadership positions at the VPD. Why do you think female leadership in policing – and in every other industry – is becoming significantly more common?

We now have five female superintendents here at the VPD: Superintendent Lisa Byrne, Superintendent Shelley Horne, Superintendent Alison Laurin, Superintendent Lynn Noftle, and Superintendent Tanya Whysker. Two of these Superintendents are within my Division – meaning that the three most senior positions in the Investigation Division are held by women. I don’t know of any other agency in the country where there is an all-female senior leadership team in the Investigation Division.

Among the VPD’s civilian professionals, Nancy Eng is the VPD’s Senior Director of Finance – one of only two civilian Executive roles. Women account for the more than half of the board members on the Vancouver Police Board – including their Executive Director. Also, the Vancouver Police Foundation has both a female Executive Director and Chair.

The VPD has made diversity a recruiting priority for many years.  Not only should we strive to reflect the communities we serve, but also we are a stronger, healthier organization when we have diversity of thought and experience at the table.  We are now seeing the fruits of that in terms of the number of women in leadership roles.

What would you say to young women who are interested in a career in law enforcement but might be intimidated about the stereotype of it being a male dominated culture?

This is an outdated stereotype and just hasn’t been my experience at the VPD. The VPD is an incredibly progressive organization including around gender equality. I would say: Don’t make assumptions based on stereotypes that may or may not be true – seek out a variety of police officers and ask about their experiences.

There is an incredible variety of roles for everyone at the VPD. Whether you are interested in Patrol, the Emergency Response Team, or maybe Forensic Identification, or working with youth, vulnerable populations, the mental health community or in investigations, there are so many opportunities. The idea of law enforcement having a male dominated culture is definitely outdated.

What is something you’ve accomplished or experienced in your career that you are particularly proud of?

I am most proud of seeing the dedication, determination, and relentless efforts of our sworn and civilian professionals when it comes to caring for the communities we serve and ensuring public safety. I see this every day, throughout the ranks, across all three divisions, and I am incredibly proud of our members.  I grew up in this organization and it’s like family to me – and it’s a family that I’m very, very proud of.

In terms of a personal accomplishment, my work in relation to policing vulnerable communities has been very rewarding. I have a professional and personal interest in ensuring that people who are mentally ill are not criminalized by virtue of their illness. I am a strong advocate for people whose voices sometimes aren’t heard. I am always looking for more resources to try to ensure that people truly receive the help they need instead of getting entangled in the criminal justice system. The VPD has been a real leader in this regard, I am very proud of the work we have done so far.

The VPF is proud to fund many VPD female-led programs each year. What do you think of the importance of VPD members, especially female members, who are identifying a need and then taking the initiative to lead the way in developing and managing these important community programs?

The development of these programs by female members is really important because it not only positions these women as leaders within the VPD, but also as leaders in the community. The more female leaders you have within an organization or in the community, the more likely several other females will be inspired to grow and follow in their footsteps. And, of course, it is critically important for girls and women to have strong female role models. One of the most significant things I’ve learned in my career is the importance of seeing women in leadership positions.

For example, it originally never occurred to me to consider a career in policing because I had literally never seen a female police officer. This was despite the fact that I had grown up in a progressive home and was taught I could do whatever I wanted to. I even completed my undergrad degree in criminology and it still never occurred to me to be a police officer. It wasn’t until one day I met a female police officer named Joanne McCormick. For the first time, I was able to envision myself in this immensely rewarding role. That really speaks to the value of women being inspired by other women.

This also applies to women as they go above and beyond in the work that they do. The importance of women taking a leadership role when they see a need in their community lies not only in the positive impact they can have on that community, but also in demonstrating to other women that they too are capable of the same leadership.

I’ve had an incredible career that has been fostered and supported in the VPD, mostly by men in the early years, that recognized the need to have diversity at the table and I am grateful that. I’m thankful that I work in an organization where I feel I’ve been given equal opportunities as my male colleagues.

The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. If you would like to help build a safer Vancouver and empower the women of the VPD as they create and lead impactful community programs, please donate today.