Meet Our People
Meet Our People introduces you to the people who work at South Simcoe Police. Each month we’ll profile a different member of our service. This month’s segment comes to us courtesy of Sue Sgambati of BarrieToday.com
When Robin McElary-Downer joined the OPP in 1981, she says the names of female officers received a notation to identify them by gender.
“They put asterisks beside the girls' names. That’s how they would flag the women. Which is so silly, ” she said.
Both policing and McElary-Downer have come a long way from her rookie years to a time when she believes gender is no longer an issue.
"To me that's history. We're well past the male female piece," said the veteran cop.
After 36 years with the Ontario Provincial Police, McElary-Downer was recently hired as Deputy Chief of the South Simcoe Police service.
The appointment to second-in-command had some people wondering why anyone would take on a new job after working for nearly four decades - let alone as a police officer.
The answer is simple. She still loves policing and had one milestone she wanted to reach.
Having moved to Gilford from the GTA in 2011 with her husband Dave, a retired Peel Police superintendent, McElary-Downer saw her chance to fulfil that final career goal.
“I always had wished in my career that I could’ve policed my own home community. And I envied the officers in the municipal services that were able to do that. Envied the officers in the OPP that were policing their own towns. I thought that would be cool,” she said.
She threw her police hat in the ring but didn’t think she stood a chance.
“Because I was OPP. The community had gone through a costing and said no to the OPP. I didn’t have that municipal experience that they may have been looking for.”
But her resume reflects a wide variety of experience, including the last six years as the Commissioner’s Chief Adjudicator.
“Incredibly happy doing what I was doing,” she said. “Based on how happy I was, I knew I wasn’t ready to retire. My husband retired and I got panicky or had some angst thinking oh my god he’s gonna want me to pull the pin with him.”
McElary-Downer has served in a variety of roles including field operations, administration, anti-rackets, surveillance and as a commander for several OPP detachments.
When she was commander of the Burlington OPP Detachment, she met the newly named Chief in South Simcoe, Andrew Fletcher, when he was with Halton Police.
“We had sat on a committee or two together and he had always impressed me,” she said.
Now that her dream has come true, the new Deputy is back into the operational side of policing and after nearly two months is starting to finally feel comfortable.
“I felt way out in left field because the processes are so different. The computer is different but the policing is the same so I’m starting to connect with the people and find my step and my position in the organization,” she explained.
“What I noticed most coming from a large organization is the depth of professionalism in this organization. They’re really good cops and they care about the community. They’re connected to the community and the community seems to like what they’re doing.”
She doesn’t have a specific goal for her tenure which is a three-year contract.
“At the end I want to say I made some small difference in the community that I live in,” she said.
And the change of uniform and switch to smaller service has already brought new learning - especially about efficiency.
“Some of the stuff I see here I wish I’d known when I was in the OPP.”
The mother of two grown children is enjoying her 15-minute commute to work.
But it’s the feeling of ownership she finds really rewarding.
“It is a whole different mind set. I can’t articulate why. It’s different now being a resident and saying ‘this is ours.’”