Originally published March 22, 2020
BY SIMONE J. SMITH
“My dad was an officer in Guyana, but he passed away when I was 6. I may not have had the influence, but somehow it was in my blood.”
In March 2013, she became the only African Caribbean female Police Inspector in Peel County. She was promoted to Superintendent in Peel County, Ontario, on March 27th, 2018 making her the highest-ranking black female police officer in Canada.
In her 33 years of policing she has risen in the ranks with a level of determination and persistence that can only be attributed to her tenacious spirit, and her perdurable Caribbean relations. She has moved from: Uniform Patrol, to Community Services, to Race and Ethnic Relations. She experienced the community’s pain when she worked in the Divisional Criminal Investigation Bureau, the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Bureau, Public Affairs, and Neighbourhood Policing Unit.
She found ways in which she could give back when she serviced in: recruiting, working in the Duty Inspectors’ Office, Records Services and Divisional Commander at 21 Division. Our Woman Empowered was promoted to Sergeant in 2002, Staff Sergeant in 2007, Inspector in 2013, and Superintendent in January 2016.
Along with the paramount role of being a mother of two, this beautiful woman remains actively involved in the community. The community recognizes the excellence that they see in this woman and have honoured her with:
- Congress of Black Women Mississauga and Area Chapter Phenomenal Woman Award
- The Association of Black Law Enforcement Leadership in Law Enforcement Award
- The Excellence in Law Enforcement Award at the Women’s Courage Award International
- The Black Community Action Network Service Award
- The African Canadian Achievement Award of Excellence in Law Enforcement
- The Police Exemplary Service Medal
- The United Achievers Club of Brampton Community Award.
There is much to be said about her but let me just introduce her. This week, I had the honour of not only meeting, but discoursing with the fascinating, and incredible Deputy Chief Ingrid Berkeley-Brown.
I arrived at the office, and was told to sign in. The security officer asked me whom I was coming to see. I told her Deputy Chief Berkeley-Brown, and she told me to have a seat and she would call up to the office. While I was sitting there, the security officer said to me, “Deputy Chief Brown is such a nice woman. She is always so cheerful. You are going to enjoy speaking with her.” I smiled at the woman and nodded in agreement. I had already heard great things about the Deputy Chief, so her reassuring words were an affirmation.
I was escorted up to her office, and as I entered her room, she rose out of her seat and greeted me with this smile that I could actually feel. “Hi Simone,” she said. “Thank you for coming to meet with me.” She motioned to join her at a small meeting space in her office. As I walk through the office, I must say I was impressed at what I saw. She had a brightly lit corner office, with plants (so Caribbean), and pictures of her family and fellow officers. I also noticed her display of awards that were stacked on a tall, standing filing cabinet. I appreciated her cool manner, and unpretentious demeanour. I immediately felt comfortable and went right into our interview.
“So, Deputy Chief,” I asked. “How did you get into policing?” She paused for a moment, and then went into her story. “Interestingly enough, my dad (Cardwell Pellew) was a member of the Guyana Police Force. He died in Guyana, but for some reason, his legacy lived in me. I was the last of 11 children, and my mom (Walterine Walton), did not initially support me becoming a law enforcement officer, but she did come around when she saw me in uniform and saw how happy I was.”
We settled into the interview, and she took me back to when everything began for her. “When I came to Canada with my mom and siblings, we lived in the Jane and Finch area. That’s right! I have lived the experiences of many of our young people. It is one of the reasons why I can relate and empathize with our young people. I was only 14 years old in 1974 when I moved to Canada. I strongly believe it is my Guyanese foundation that made me such a formidable individual.
Policing was something I fell into. Social science was my field of study at Seneca College. And while I was working with Probation and Parole for my service hours, my job was to place young people apart of the Juvenile Delinquent Act in locations to do their community work. While doing this, I met Officer Sid Young, who suggested that I consider a policing career. I had never thought about it.”
Five years after applying to several police services in the Greater Toronto Area and the Ontario Provincial Police, Peel made the call.
“Back in 1981, I applied and went to the Toronto Police headquarters. The first thing you had to do was step on a scale. I was completely unqualified right then and there because I was underweight. Back then, there was a certain height and weight requirement. I always say that was my first systemic barrier. Today, we know policing is more about communication skills. But at the time, I did get disqualified. I stepped back from the process, recalculated, got married, and had my son. Then, in 1985, I decided to apply to RCMP, OPP and Toronto. In late 1985, Peel called, and this has been it since ’86.”
I was curious, it must have been challenging being the one of two African Caribbean, women. I asked Deputy Chief Berkeley-Brown to expound on that.
“I was the only woman of colour. I was the only one that had a child – a three-year-old son at the time. It was a class of about 32, and out of a group of 300, I was the one of two black females, and the only black female officer in Peel County after graduation. I didn’t have a mentor. I feel like I struggled my way through. I’ve had times where I would be selected to do something, and someone would say ‘Oh, you know why you’re being selected right – because they needed a female,’ or suggestions that I’d only get promotions because I’m a black woman. I always felt like I had to work that much harder.”
And harder she has worked. She will be retiring in April, and she told me that she is looking forward to being just Ingrid Berkeley-Brown, and not Deputy Chief Ingrid Berkeley-Brown.
“I’m fortunate that I was naïve coming into this, because I think if I wasn’t, I would have taken on a lot more pressure and stress, and it would have kept me down. If it’s something you’re absolutely passionate about, there are a lot of great things with policing. It’s a systemic organization, but also, especially as a black person; you have a lot of pressure coming from the community. You need a lot of emotional intelligence and self-awareness.”