After 30 years, Chatham’s first female police officer took her last ride on patrol with the Chatham-Kent Police Service April 25.
Const. Amy Finn, an officer whose care and compassion endeared her to so many members of the community, gave her final 10-7 after riding patrol with Const. Jason Herder last week.
With some tears and lots of hugs, Finn made her final rounds, stopping off for pictures at St. Joseph’s School where her sons attended, and with other community supporters.
Policing wasn’t Finn’s initial choice of career, but her mom encouraged her to apply for the position in Chatham when Finn was in her second year of pre-law at Carlton University in Ottawa. Her actual first choice out of high school, Finn explained, was joining the Canadian Air Force.
“I went to the Royal Military College for my entrance interview in 1985 and they asked me what branch I was interested in and when I told them Air Force, they told me I couldn’t be a pilot,” Finn recalled. “I walked out of there and went to Carlton to become a lawyer and fight for all the things women weren’t allowed to do,” she joked.
Finn applied for the position in Chatham and became one of the first women to be hired by the Chatham police on July 4, 1988. Finn found out that same day she faced an uphill battle with the attitude towards women in policing.
“It was tough, because all I wanted was to be like them. I didn’t want any special treatment; to be looked at differently or treated differently,” Finn explained.
Her first day, she said she walked in with no uniform and in the first few hours, was involved in a foot chase along the bank of the river.
“I started to feel like, ‘Yeah, this is great.’ Then I got my first uniform and it came with a female hat which, again, set me out. I call it the ‘Peter Pan hat,’” Finn reminisced. “But it was the guys that I worked with that started to let me to know I belonged. I had Pete Bakker, Jim Biskey, Jeff Schamahorn, Mike Currie, Ron Bordeau – they’re all guys that didn’t see that Peter Pan hat, thank heavens. I became one of them.”
Finn said those officers’ attitude, particularly her training officer, was how to get her to be treated with respect in a community used to dealing with only male officers?
“And that’s where Pete (Bakker) came in. There is nothing worse than standing there and trying to be that officer and have somebody in the public start talking to your partner and totally ignore you,” she noted. “Pete started right off the bat, saying, ‘No, she’s who you’re going to talk to, she is the officer doing this complaint and if you don’t talk to her, we’re gone.’
“Had I not had the support I had, with the shift I had, it would have been a long 30 years.”
When thinking back, Finn said over the years, the only time she can recall where she was tempted to throw in the towel was when she needed to qualify with a gun that when you aimed it “here,” it fired over “there.”
“I was determined I was passing with this gun. I could shoot with anyone else’s gun, but this gun I could not shoot with. I would aim here and then hit way over there. Rick Isles would give me his gun and I could hit the target every time,” Finn said.
It was January, 1989 at the firing range in Cedar Springs when Finn finally passed after people didn’t think she could do it.
“The look on Rick’s face was so shocked. He was my biggest critic and the hardest on me. But you know, I look back and there were times I was ready to just throw the gun in the river and walk away and when I saw the look of excitement and happiness on his face that I passed, I saw someone who just wants an officer, whether I was female or male, he could feel safe sending out on the road to back up the other officers and to do their job,” Finn explained.
She said it was either sink or swim but Rick was also her biggest supporter, other than the guys she worked with.
While most fellow officers learned early on that Finn could handle herself, she brought a calm and respectful style of policing to her shifts walking the neighbourhoods of Chatham.
“My mom used to tell me I was the friend to the friendless and I get that from my dad,” Finn joked.
Some of her best moments as an officer, she said, was when kids she didn’t even know would come to her on the street and say good morning or give her a hug and say thank you.
“That wasn’t why I joined. I wasn’t there for the recognition. I wanted to make change, to show people that because you have disability, because I grew up with one, or whether you’re a girl, or there is something different about you – I wanted to show that they could still do things and be good at it. It’s at those points that I’m not that female officer that walked in those doors scared to death, I’m Amy, an officer; not Chatham-Kent’s first female,” Finn explained. “It’s that moment; it’s not one, it’s an entire 30 years.”
Finn said she loves this area, and although she initially didn’t want to come, she’s thankful she had the mother she did who encouraged her to come back and serve her community and be a “friend to the friendless.”
Growing up, Finn didn’t speak until she was four years old and it was recommended she be institutionalized to deal with the issue. She credits her father with refusing to get out of the car in London, and turning around and bringing her home.
“I know the struggles with people. I know how it feels to be different. I’ve lived it. But I’m not doing anything people didn’t do for me growing up, where I had people who looked out for me. My parents, my teachers, the people who lived across the street – I had officers like Bill Scott who knew my entire family,” Finn said. “You do what you were taught and what you saw and I don’t think of myself as different than any other officer. We have some good guys here.”
With kids of her own with special needs, the single mom said she hopes to instill in them that they may seem different, but they’re not.
For the future, Finn said she looks forward to just being a mom to her four boys, continuing to be a support to her extensive extended and adopted family, and encourage people to look at the positive in their lives and in their community.
“There isn’t a day that goes by where there isn’t something that happens. Take a look at Toronto and Saskatchewan – life is way too short. I go into Tim Horton’s and hear people and it’s negative. Instead of looking at the negative, look at the positive,” Finn stated. “I’ve been blessed with a great job and I’ve had a great 30 years. I would never change anything about that, but when you start seeing people who show hatred, hate this community, maybe it’s time we look at things differently and start seeing positively.”
Living through a disability, a childhood sexual assault, a house fire and being a single mom to four boys, Finn said she sees the support and generosity of the people around her.
“When something happens, you see the good in this community,” she added.
Chatham-Kent has a lot to offer to people if they just look around them, Finn said and believes in something.
Her commitment to her community doesn’t rule out the possibility of Finn seeking a seat on Chatham-Kent council, something her numerous supporters would love to see. That’s something Finn said she would have to think some more about.