Hanging up her badge: Fredericton police chief shares highs and lows of 34-year career

News source from CTV News

She became a police officer when few women were in the field, and Fredericton Police Chief Leanne Fitch says after over 34 years of policing — six as chief – she still loves the job.

Monday is her last day, and in an interview with CTV News, she reflected on what inspired her to become an officer. Fitch said it was either that, or veterinary medicine.

“My dad was in the RCMP,” she said. “I was inspired by the work that he was doing and I always had a sense of wanting to help people,” she said. “I almost felt like it was kind of in my veins.”

Her parents weren’t keen on her becoming an officer. They preferred she go into law, but she says she’s always felt pulled to “be part of making peace.”

“My father, from his experience, just knew that it’s a hard, tough side of life that you deal with every day,” she said. “And, probably as a dad, wanted to spare one of his children from following in those footsteps.”

But Fitch says he was “very, very proud” when she graduated from the Ontario Police College. She also went to the University of New Brunswick where she obtained a bachelor and master’s degree.

She joined the Fredericton Police Force, officially, in the early eighties.

“I was the fifth woman here on the force,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to be recognized for my gender. I just want to come to work and I want to be a great police officer.’”

But, despite the urge not to be singled out as one of few women on the force, she became the go-to constable for certain calls.

“I ended up going to a lot of sexual assault calls. If I was working in Marysville and there was a sexual assault in Silverwood, then I would be the one that was deployed to that,” she recalled. “So, very early in my career, I was saturated with calls for service around sexual violence.”

Over the years, sexual assault and intimate partner violence became two issues Fitch grew passionate about. She’s spread awareness and advocated for victims, researched and has written a book on IPV.

“It lives in the forefront of my mind, everyday”

On Aug. 10, 2018, Fitch was in Halifax attending meetings on criminal intelligence. Normally, she would be up early to tend to her farm before heading to work. But because she was away, she was still in bed at 7:24 am, when a call came in.

“It was Deputy Chief Gaudet calling me to tell me that there had been a shooting in Fredericton,” she said. “I don’t know if I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ which sounds like a bizarre response, but I remember his reply word-for-word. It was, ‘I kid you not.’”

She says she “bolted upright” and called then-Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais to warn him that she’d be driving ‘code three,’ with lights flashing, to get out of the city and back to Fredericton.

“As soon as I got in my police car in the underground garage at the hotel, I was linked directly into what was happening in the street,” she said.

Fitch calls it a blessing that the Force had just joined the Trunk Mobile Radio system in the province, so she was able to listen to all the communication among officers, happening on the ground.

“My wife, Sara, of course, is a police officer, and I was on the road for a little while and I heard her come on the air, on scene. That was hard for me,” Fitch said. “I had to, kind of, park that, right? I said, ‘Okay. She’s competent, she’s capable, she’s smart, she’s been policing for almost as long as I have. But that, from a personal perspective, was very hard to do.”

Matthew Vincent Raymond has been charged with the first-degree murders of Fredericton police constables Sara Burns and Robb Costello and civilians Donnie Robichaud and Bobbie Lee Wright.

Fitch says “tough” isn’t a strong enough word to describe the past year.

“It’s been brutal,” she said.

Fitch says she’s had to walk the talk when it comes to her own mental health. She says she’s encouraged all officers to see a counsellor, and has followed her own advice.

“I don’t mind telling people this. I’ve had probably five sessions with a counsellor to talk about trauma and stress, and that’s about walking the talk,” she said. “One of the things people often say is ‘I can’t believe that happened in Fredericton.’ And I say, ‘Unfortunately, I can believe that happened in Fredericton.’”

Retirement, and moving forward

While Fitch will be retiring Monday, it won’t be a clean break.

The trial begins Sept. 30. And she’s been called to the RCMP’s Interim Management Advisory Board as the vice-chairperson. The board is aimed at strengthening the RCMP’s management, and improve members’ health.

Fitch says she’s ‘proud and honoured’ to be on the board, and work will be begin in the fall.

“I’m looking forward to spending some time in my study and doing some research and writing, and I have some real passion around that,” she said.

But until then: “I am going to take the summer off to rest, because I’m tired. And I need some rest,” she said. “I’m going to take the summer, get back on the saddle with my horse, and spend some time on the trails and playing in the gardens.”

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