By Jessica Lovell
When Rob Davis joined the Guelph Police Service as a 19-year-old back in 1971, things were different.
Recruits were required to be 18 years old and have at least a Grade 10 education, and though there were no official height and weight requirements, “the theory back then was more brawn over brains,” he says.
Back then, the force had 62 members, all of them men. As chief, Davis now leads a service made up of 195 uniformed members and 95 civilian members. More than 25 of the officers are women.
“We are making strides,” he says.
Davis is getting set to retire at the end of this month, passing the reins to Deputy Chief Bryan Larkin. Davis will have been with the local service for more than 40 years.
In that time, the requirements to join the service are just one of the changes he’s seen.
“It’s much more focused on your skills and abilities now, and there’s a greater focus on representing your community,” he says, though he admits that the service still has a ways to go when it comes to representing the ethnic diversity of the Guelph community.
One of the biggest changes came in 2000, around the time that Davis first took the reins as chief. It was then that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services came out with its adequacy standards guidelines for policing.
“It had a significant impact on how policing was done,” says Davis.
The number of police services in Ontario dropped significantly at that time – from about 140 to 63 – as some services amalgamated and others passed their responsibilities on to the OPP. For the Guelph service, there was a considerable cost for things like retraining and new equipment, says Davis.
“Thankfully, we came through that pretty well,” he says.
Another change he notes is the handling of domestic violence cases and the significant community supports that are now available for victims.
“That support never was here before,” he says, noting the importance for police in maintaining strong partnerships with organizations like Victim Services Wellington and Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis.
Policing is not always pleasant work, but it is a positive experience when you feel that you’re helping people, Davis says.
It’s what made his experience working in traffic services a good one.
“I had some wonderful experience in traffic,” says Davis, explaining that “when you work in traffic and you go to accident scenes, you’re there helping people.”
One of the more challenging times for Davis as a leader came when he took over the job of chief from Lenna Bradburn.
“I had considerable work to do to address the morale issues” among the members, he says.
There were also some fences that needed to be mended in the community, he says.
“I am confident that I’m leaving the service in a much better position than when I got it,” he says.
It is an organization he speaks of with pride.
“We are a very well respected police service.”
And it is clear that in spite of the trials of the job, Davis has enjoyed it.
“I still love coming to work every day,” he says. “There is no job like this, because every single day brings you new opportunities.”
He thinks his love for the job rubbed off on his kids.
His son Michael and daughter Jennifer have both followed him into policing. Michael works in Guelph, and Jennifer in Waterloo.
“They love the job as well as I do,” he says.
Of course, there are some things he won’t miss.
“I’m not going to miss the phone calls and the complaints,” he says with a smile. But he will definitely miss the people, both in the community and on the job.
“You’re always going to miss some of the people,” he says. “There’s some really close bonds you create with partners over the years.”
He expects he will maintain some of these connections, given that he will be staying in his hometown.
“The nice part about it is I’m not very far away,” he says.
He also expects to keep up his connections to the community through volunteer work. “I’ve always had a long history in that,” Davis says. He has accepted two positions with community organizations although he is not ready to share which ones, he says.
The rest of his time will probably be dedicated to family, something that in his line of work he hasn’t always had as much time for as he’d like.
“There were a lot of weekends and a lot of nights and a lot of Christmases that Dad wasn’t home, because he was working,” he says.
He’s now looking forward to spending time with his four grandsons, who range in age from three-and-a- half to nine.
“For a long time, I’ve wanted to do things that I really couldn’t commit to,” he says.
Some of those things will include simple pleasures such as skiing, golfing and the cottage, he says.
Whatever he does, rest assured it will not be politics. A fear of public speaking will keep him out of that line of work, he says.
It’s a fear that he never got over, in spite of the fact that in his first year as chief he estimates that he went to over 200 community events.
“I’ve got one more time that I have to do it, and then that’s a big piece of my life that I can put behind me,” says Davis.
That one more time will come at his retirement celebration, which is taking place March 29 at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre.
Davis’s last day will be March 30. Until that time, he will be hard at work clearing the deck for his successor.
“It’s always been my position that you’re an employee and you should work until you retire,” he says.