One of the Vancouver Police Department’s popular social media accounts on Twitter is @behindblueline and alumna Sandra Glendinning is the woman at the helm. She graduated from York House in 1990 and her long career in law enforcement has been exciting and varied.
Describe your career path after graduating from York House:
I went to school, worked on the weekends, volunteered with the Vancouver Police Department’s Victim Services Unit and Citizens’ Crime Watch, and was also a youth swimming instructor.
I applied to be a Reserve Constable with the VPD when I was 19 and still going to school (this program no longer exists and has been replaced with the VPD’s Community Service Personnel program), but my application was bumped to the regular police officer process and I went through the entire application process at that point. However, it became clear during this process that I wanted to travel and finish school, so my application was deferred for two years to allow me the time to do that.
Following my studies, I travelled to New Zealand and Australia for three months and when I returned to Vancouver, I trained as a Correctional Officer and worked at the BC Correctional Centre for Women. This was a penitentiary for women serving provincial and federal sentences for everything from theft to murder. The lessons I learned while interacting with the women incarcerated there have stayed with me ever since.
I started with the VPD in 1995 and worked in patrol (including walking the beat in the Downtown Eastside) until 2005. During that time, I had two children. In 2005, I joined the VPD’s Canine Unit where I was partnered with Police Service Dog Hondo. We worked together until he was retired at the end of 2012. This was certainly a highlight in my career.
From there, I was a detective in the Robbery/Assault/Arson Unit, and then the VPD’s first social media officer before being promoted to sergeant in 2015. After promotion, I received a mandatory assignment as an investigator to the Professional Standards Section. During this assignment, I investigated allegations of police misconduct as governed by the BC Police Act, and I reported to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
From there, I transitioned back to the Operations Division in the summer of 2017, where I took command of a patrol team in District 4, which is the south/west part of Vancouver that includes York House. I was promoted to Staff Sergeant at the beginning of December 2020, and I am transitioning into my new role of overseeing the VPD’s Marine Unit and the teams assigned to the Downtown Eastside. My job will be to support the sergeants in charge of those teams, and to ensure they have the resources required to fulfill their responsibilities. I’m very excited about this next chapter.
Did you always want to work in law enforcement?
I only became aware that law enforcement was an option when I attended York House’s “Career Night” when I was in either Grade 10 or 11. This was an evening where women from a variety of backgrounds gave presentations on their professions to expose students to career options. Women of similar professions were in small groups in different classrooms, and students could choose to listen to whoever they found interesting.
I remember attending one classroom where the presenters worked in the arts: graphic design, a glass artist, and a painter. It was so inspiring. I then went to the next room, where the presenters were a police officer and two women in similar fields – I don’t actually remember what their jobs were. The policewoman was VPD Constable Linda Stewart. She shared stories and explained what her job actually was, and I was hooked. Right away, I knew policing and I would be a good fit.
Describe a typical workday.
I’ve been a police officer for 25 years and have been on the frontline for more than 20. For the last three and half years, I have been the sergeant in charge of a team of police officers working on patrol in the S/W part of the city.
My shift starts with a briefing with my team, almost like what you see on TV, where we discuss problem areas, persons of note, investigative files and events occurring in the city that we need to be aware of. I give out assignments, we discuss incidents from previous shifts, and I basically give a pep talk to the team before we hit the road. If it’s a really busy shift, I may not see some of them until the end of the night, so it’s important to start the shift on a positive and upbeat note.
Once out on the road, I review calls for service that are waiting to be dispatched, and I work with the dispatcher to ensure the more urgent calls are handled first. I spend quite a bit of time on the phone speaking with complainants, business owners, and residents who have called in to report a crime or raise a concern.
I am also responsible for running any priority incidents that occur, such as a bank robbery, break and enter in progress, or other, in-progress and potentially violent incidents that require an immediate police response. In these situations, I direct police units, establish immediate action plans, and ensure specialty units such as K9, the Emergency Response Team, or detectives are aware should we require additional resources.
What are the three most important personality traits you possess that work in your favour in terms of working in the field?
Integrity, compassion/empathy, and the ability to think/act calmly when under stress (mental agility).
You are also a talented artist. Tell us more about your business and how you manage to find time to create work.
I also considered a career in graphic design and I have had a long love affair with the arts. Now, though, my art is a major component in my coping mechanisms for working in law enforcement. My job can be extremely stressful, and the risk of burn-out, compassion fatigue, and the development of apathy is high, so I turn to art to decompress and bring me back to a level line. I have a little greeting card business that allows me to keep buying art supplies!
You have a very engaged following on social media under your Twitter handle @BehindBlueLine. How do you manage your personal views with those of the official VPD? Is it challenging?
The VPD has a fairly robust social media policy, and all officers representing the VPD on social media have to have approval from the department to do so. I had a hand in writing the social media policy in 2013, so I’m very familiar with what officers can and cannot post.
My philosophy is simple – my job on social media is to always represent the VPD and policing in a positive light, and to share what it’s like to be a police officer so others not familiar with law enforcement can better understand some of the trials and tribulations we face. I don’t want my social media handles (Twitter and Instagram, both under @behindblueline) to be about me, but rather, about the job of policing through my eyes. I occasionally share snippets about my personal life (our dogs, the fact I’m married to a firefighter, that I’m scared of spiders, that I was recently promoted to Staff Sergeant!), but my focus is on sharing stories and experiences to pull back the curtain on policing.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
The people. In the department, being a police officer is like being a part of a very large and extended family, and I know my brothers and sisters in uniform will come to my aid without a second thought should I ever need help. Outside of the department, I am very fortunate to interact with people of all ages, socioeconomic groups, backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities during my workday. This job of policing is so much bigger than oneself, and I have met some incredible individuals along the way.
How do you think York House has impacted your career and life experiences?
York House taught me to look at the “big picture” and to believe I could do just about anything as long as I possessed self-awareness and worked hard.
- Police Officer of the Year, Vancouver Police Department, 2020
- Order of Merit of the Police Services, Member, Governor General of Canada, 2020
- Lieutenant Governor Medal of Valour, 2005
- Chief Constable’s Award of Valour, 2005