A remarkable VPD officer recently retired after a storied 41 year career in law enforcement. Constable Linda Malcolm found her stride supporting and protecting vulnerable women on Vancouver’s downtown eastside for much of her time on the job. And today, as Canada’s recognizes the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, we are proud to feature Part 1 of Linda’s story – looking back at where she came from and how her successful career progressed.
From the Patrol Division, to Investigative roles, to being assigned to the Missing Women Task Force, to working on the tragic Robert Pickton investigation, Linda’s final placement for the last 15 years was in the unique and highly effective role as the VPD’s Sex Industry Liaison Officer.
Linda got her start in law enforcement as a Constable with the Canadian National Railway Police, working out of what we now know as Pacific Central Station. Turning 19 years old, Linda received her policing training in Winnipeg and returned to Vancouver to work at CN with another former VPD member, Anne Drennan. At that time there were only a handful of female Officers across Canada.
Just two years later, at age 21, Linda made the move to the Vancouver Police Department. Her Academy class was a double class #24 and #25, with 50 young recruits; each class registering 24 men and 1 woman. At that time, Linda was the 34th female in the history of the VPD. And while we can all agree that the role of women in law enforcement has greatly evolved since the early 80s, Linda certainly experienced old school policing in those first couple of years on the job.
For example, some of the male partners Linda had insisted on being the dedicated driver while she wrote the reports, when stopping a driver for an infraction, Linda was met with disgruntled drivers who ignored the educational explanation of receiving the ticket and turned it into an issue that women should be home raising children not giving out tickets. Along with some citizens only wanting to speak with a male officer, Linda received plenty of stares and comments from complainants and even subjects of complaints.
A silver lining to this is that Linda was often invited to participate in many different projects and task forces, including high-profile cases, and undercover investigations because the general public wasn’t going to suspect a female police officer working undercover. Every few months, she would get to work with VPD’s former Vice Unit in an undercover role to identify and arrest males who were trying to solicit vulnerable women.
“Back then, all those solicitation cases were going to court,” explains Linda. “It was a priority in the eighties to charge individuals involved with sex workers. A cover team would keep an eye on me while I was standing on a corner, more often in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or Mount Pleasant, trying to get picked up by a client. When they stopped, I would engage them in a brief conversation, which always included a price and the sex act, and then turn them down, walking away from the vehicle. The sign to the cover team once I had established the essential elements of Soliciting was to run my fingers through my hair. With that signal, the cover unit would wait for the vehicle to leave the immediate area, following close behind and then stop the driver to make the arrest.”
When the Expo 86 World’s Fair was awarded to Vancouver, Linda was one of 37 Officers chosen for the on-site assignment which lasted almost six months. It was a highlight of her career as it was such a great opportunity to have visitors and dignitaries from all over the world coming to Expo to have fun and see our beautiful city. “There were many visitors from other countries who weren’t used to seeing female police officers so I ended up being in a lot of photos with tourists.”
By the end of the 1980s, Linda joined the Traffic Unit and a year later, became the first female on the VPD’s Motorcycle Drill Team. She spent much of the 90s working at City Hall on a planning project called City Plan, Crime Stoppers and Robbery before being seconded as an Investigator with the Missing Women Task Force, which was the investigation and arrest of Robert Pickton in February 2002.
There was so much to learn during this investigation and one of the ways to gain insight into the lifestyles and environment was to make contact with some of the social agencies that were supporting vulnerable women working in the sex trade, predominately in the Downtown Eastside. “I needed a better understanding of this community, who was part of it, what concerns them the most, their routines and resources available.”
As you can imagine, even as a female police officer, gaining the trust of these women and even the social agencies working with them, was not as easy task.
“You need to have a relationship with the women before they’re willing to talk to a police officer, so finding ways to establish those relationships was a priority for me. I needed to show them that I wasn’t there just to pull information out of them and leave. I was someone who wanted to understand what’s going on and was open to any information that was impacting this community.”
Linda would start by attending a weekly drop-in session on the Downtown Eastside that supported and assisted women in the sex trade. She would bring fresh-baked cookies and for the first several sessions she would be casually introduced and then sit quietly at the back of the room hoping one or two of the women would want to chat with her. But no one did.
Linda’s relationship with these vulnerable females finally evolved one night when a male solicitor was incessantly harassing one of the women as she was arriving at the Drop In. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass her by to show the women that she was there to help, Linda immediately went outside and found the male, called another patrol unit for back-up and due to an outstanding warrant, he was arrested and taken away immediately.
The female victim simply couldn’t believe that anyone would help her – especially in that way. “I explained to her who I was and that I was working on the Pickton file. I told her ‘I know this investigation is very upsetting for a lot of women here. I also understand that you were very upset with this man and how he was behaving. So, I thought I would try to make things a little easier for you and deal with him myself.” From that point on the dialogue between Linda and the women on the Downtown Eastside opened up.
Word quickly spread in the sex trade community that Linda was trustworthy, supportive, and caring.
“I was able to learn details about the ‘industry’ in Vancouver that had not previously been known to police. I learned key information about the streets and neighbourhoods that Pickton had frequented. I learned about others’ experiences who went with him but who were unharmed. I was able to immerse myself in that whole culture which was brought back to the investigation and helped move the file forward.”
Looking back, Linda will tell you that being involved in such a high profile and disturbing case for over four years was the highlight of her career and was very proud to have been involved in this investigation. Once the investigation concluded, Linda continued to attend the drop-in night to maintain connections and relationships with these vulnerable women.
Linda then transferred into the Domestic Violence and Criminal Harassment Unit and then the Elder Abuse Unit before being asked to take over the position of the VPD Sex Worker Liaison position, formerly held by retired Officer Dave Dickson. Her time as the Sex Industry Liaison Officer has strengthened the Police and Community relationships along with those individuals working in the sex industry.
Next week in Part 2 we will highlight the impressive scale of support Linda offered to these vulnerable women on the Downtown Eastside for the past 15 years. This includes helping them obtain ID, housing, medical care, navigating the legal system, providing them with emergency phones, and of course helping them protect themselves every day and at all hours of the day.
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