Top 40 Under 40 recipient shares what makes Greater Victoria Police Emergency Response Team tick
Saanich Police Department Sgt. Drew Robertson was selected as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” award recipients from the International Association of Chiefs of Police last year. Robertson, who is the team leader of the Greater Victoria Police Emergency Response Team (GVERT) in British Columbia, was recognized for revamping the recruit selection processes and operational protocols. He tells Blue Line more about his new lesson plans, training scenarios and what it takes to make a positive impact in the field.
Q: How did you become involved in law enforcement?
My father was a member of the RCMP and we lived in a small town in B.C. through my high school years. Like a lot of other members, that family connection was very influential in my decision to pursue a career in law enforcement, but my path to where I am now was not as linear as it is for some.
I graduated from UBC with a degree in forest resource management and I went on to work in the forest industry for a few years before beginning my law enforcement career with the Calgary Police Service.
Calgary is a very professional agency with a positive culture. The basic field training I received there gave me a solid foundation that has helped me get to where I am now.
I left Calgary after three years to move closer to family on Vancouver Island and was hired by the Saanich Police Department in 2005.
Greater Victoria is policed by a number of smaller agencies and I became a member of the integrated GVERT in 2010, taking over as team leader for the tactical unit in 2015.
Q: What made you want to ‘step up to the plate’ when new leadership was needed at GVERT?
I had been selected for a future leadership role but before I could begin my development for that position, the team leader unexpectedly retired under difficult circumstances. The team was facing a number of challenges at that time and it fell to me to take his place. We have tremendous support from our management and I was given a team of very bright and dedicated people, so I had a lot to work with. We chose to make an opportunity out of a difficult period and used it to make some very positive and lasting changes.
My time with this team has been the most rewarding of my career. It is a demanding job that comes with all the challenges inherent to leading an integrated unit. I enjoy the opportunity to work across the whole region with who I think are some of the best people in policing. I use my position to improve interoperability and co-operation among the various agencies and other first responders.
Q: Tell me more about the new business practices you helped implement for GVERT.
Selecting the right people for tactical team assignments is a challenge for every agency. There is an expectation that we use a rigorous process to identify character traits and behaviour that make someone more suited to the role than others. Some departments have a career pathing approach to this problem but we have been able to stay focused on suitability for the role.
In small agencies like ours, it is a very resource-intensive process. With a lot of help from other agencies, we were able to develop a selection process that was fair, defensible and successful in helping us choose good candidates. The success of our selection process showed in the positive results we achieved in our most recent basic tactical operator course.
After selection, basic and maintenance training are where I have focused my attention. I strongly believe that we expect our officers to be able to deal with more than we have prepared them for. More resources need to be invested in training so that we can keep each other going home every day and able to deliver on the promise we have made to our communities. I have been working to improve skills and procedures training for our tactical unit and for frontline members across the region. Training is expensive and resource-intensive, so we are exploring online and in-service options to disseminate information on a variety of critical incident response tactics.
Q: You have been recognized for fostering new relationships. Why is this type of collaboration important in your opinion?
As police officers, we are responsible for so many different tasks that we are not masters of any. When I want to improve a practice, I find someone who is doing it better. Reaching out to another agency for assistance means letting go of your ego and admitting that you don’t have it all figured out. What you get back is not only the instruction but also valuable relationships built along the way. Our connections to the military, other city departments, the RCMP and international agencies have been critical to our success.
Q: How do you manage being on call 24/7? Do you have any words of wisdom for other officers trying to manage a healthy work/life balance?
It is not easy and requires a lot of support from my family. Continuous on call is not a great deployment model but we want to be there when we are needed, so it is worth the sacrifice for us.
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is difficult for every police officer, regardless of assignment. If you are truly committed to this profession, then you are working outside of your scheduled hours. What I try (and don’t always succeed) to do is focus on being present in my various roles. When I am with my family, I am focused on them. When I am working, I am very efficient with my time, which allows me to keep a couple hours each day for my own physical and mental health.
Q: What advice would you give overall to other junior officers looking to make an impact?
Shape this career into what you want it to be. If you see an opportunity, take it. If you want to make a change, then drive it forward. No one else will. This is especially important when it comes to organizational culture. It is very easy to become entrenched in a negative outlook on our job. One person with a positive focus and the willingness to influence others can turn an entire work group around. Do not wait to be a senior member of your unit to start effecting positive change.
The Saanich Police Department is on YouTube! Visit bit.ly/2xV0D8n.