Arts and sports good prep for cop jobs
It takes a well rounded person to make a good police officer
By Patty Wellborn
|Len Goerke in one of the Abbotsford Police Department's new patrol cars.|
If Len Goerke, one of Abbotsford’s highest ranking police officers, were to give advice about how to get into the police force, his answer might surprise many criminologists.
Len, who was already a career police officer when he began taking classes at UFV in the mid 1990s, certainly encourages post-secondary education — but he recommends a well-rounded arts degree.
Toss in some criminology courses for good measure, but he stresses it’s the skills he learned working on his Liberal Arts diploma and his Bachelor of Arts degree (geography/ history) that he credits for helping his climb up the police department ranks.
“My motivation to go to UFV was, in part, to help me with my career,” he says. “But the reason why I took geography and history is because those were the areas that interested me the most. And there I was in my early 30s, sitting in the classroom with a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds. It was a hoot.”
Len always wanted to be a police officer and right after high school he signed up for some criminology courses at Kwantlen. He lasted a semester and then joined the army. After three and half years with the Canadian Armed Forces, he tried Kwantlen again — this time taking business.
But he couldn’t shake his curiosity about policing, so in 1987, he applied for and was accepted into the Abbotsford police department (then known as Matsqui).
“I always envisioned myself as a homicide investigator,” he smiles, talking about the first few years on the job. He spent years working general patrol, was promoted several times, eventually ending up on the major crimes unit in 1995. He participated in some high-profile cases including the Tanya Smith murder investigation, in which the ‘Abbotsford Killer’ terrorized the community with taunts before his eventual capture.
At the same time, he was taking courses at UFV. He earned his Liberal Arts diploma in 1995 and his BA in 1998. “Policing is such a people business. It’s absolutely critical that police officers have good writing and research skills. My arts background helps me to look at things from a different angle than some other police officers might. I can’t stress enough how important critical thinking and good writing skills are to policing.”
Teamwork also plays a key role in solving crimes, and in a police officer’s career. There are dozens of key roles individuals take on when working together to solve a major crime, Len notes. The gathering and protection of evidence, interrogation and cooperation of witnesses, and other investigative duties are done to a Canadian ‘industry standard’ called the Major Case Management Model. It’s a system employed across the country regardless of the police entity and Len says police officers need to have skills that promote teamwork and collaboration.
“If a person has been killed, raped, or seriously assaulted by a stranger, there is a great sense of urgency to identify and apprehend the offender and everyone has to do their job,” he explains. “The analogy of a team sport would hold, for the investigation to be successful. And in part, this is why police recruiters look favourably upon candidates who have competed in team sports at a high level, or have been part of something like a competitive band.”
Early in his career, Len’s perspective caught the attention of the police department’s brass. He earned a number of promotions, worked his way up to inspector, and eventually became the officer in charge of the criminal investigation branch. Earlier this year he was named Deputy Chief of Administration. It’s a new role, another promotion in fact, and it makes him one of the highest ranking officers in town.
“It is a new position within the Abbotsford PD, so I get to invent it, not follow in anybody else’s footsteps,” Len says. “It’s a brand-new job within the organization and I’m making it my own. That does allow for some flexibility, but there’s plenty of responsibility too.”
As the Deputy Chief of Administration, Len is responsible for the department’s more than 300 employees. Instead of blood splatter patterns and forensic investigations, he now deals with spread sheets, budgets, support services, human resources, and risk management issues. Even the department’s buildings and vehicles fall under his jurisdiction.
There is no easy answer when asked which type of policing he prefers: on the street or at the desk. Len has matured, not only as a police officer, but as a person, since he first joined the force in the 1980s. Back then, he would’ve called administrative staff ‘pencil pushers’, but now that he is one, he recognizes the important role good administration plays in an effective police force.
“All of the jobs I’ve had in policing have had their pros and cons and over 23 years I have changed from a young man to a middle-aged man. My current position is the right job for me right now. I am enjoying it and would not trade it for any other job I have during my policing career. At the same time, at 25 I would not have been interested in the job I have now. The younger me would have said real cops arrest criminals and take them to jail, real cops don't review budgets and approve policy, bureaucrats do. But that's what I do now and I'm still a real cop. Every role, every duty has its time.”
Forever passionate about education, Len has continued to take courses throughout his policing career. In 2002 he earned a Master of Arts in conflict analysis and management at Royal Roads University. While he enjoyed his studies with Royal Roads, he continues to credit UFV for feeding his desire to learn and gives nods of appreciation to his former professors Eric Davis (a historian who is now UFV’s acting Vice President Academic & Provost) and John Belec (geography).
“I think my liberal arts education has been a definite benefit to me as a police officer. The skills I accumulated while pursuing my education have definitely been an asset. I have fond memories of my experiences at UFV and I’m so thankful the opportunities were there for me.” Now it’s time for Len to give back. In January, he joined the UFV Alumni Association’s board of directors. He says he had such a good experience at UFV that joining the Alumni board is a small way for him to repay what he can to the university that helped him exceed his career goals.
“I think we all benefit if we have a vibrant university in our communities,” he says. “My children will benefit from UFV’s continued growth and so will my grandchildren. If I can help UFV in anyway establish itself as a great regional university, then it’s really the least I can do.”