A life in uniform

Danette Dooley
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'My first love has always been patrol,' says June Layden, the RNC's first female superintendent

June Layden has held every rank possible in the RNC's Street Patrol Division, including constable, media relations officer and platoon commander.

When she joined the force on Dec. 15, 1980, she was one of the first female recruits accepted into the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

RNC Supt. June Layden is the first woman to reach the rank of superintendent within the force. The Gambo native joined the RNC in 1980, one of its first female recruits. - Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

June Layden has held every rank possible in the RNC's Street Patrol Division, including constable, media relations officer and platoon commander.

When she joined the force on Dec. 15, 1980, she was one of the first female recruits accepted into the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

On Jan. 22, she made history again when she became the first female RNC officer to become a superintendent.

But she can still remember a time when not every member of the public was used to seeing women in police uniforms.

"I remember going on a call with one of my constables. ...," she says. "He was doing his call and I was standing back taking notes. I was in full uniform, with sergeant stripes on my sleeve. The older gentleman that was making the complaint looked at the young officer and said, 'So, you brought the woman along to take notes for you.' I got quite a chuckle out of it. He just said, 'No sir, she's my supervisor.'"

Layden has earned her stripes.

Now in her 29th year with the force, she has spent the bulk of her time in street patrol, particularly as a supervisor. The division she heads is the largest in the force, with more than 150 staff. Approximately 80 per cent of all calls to the RNC come through Layden's section.

"My first love has always been patrol," she said. "I'm now the voice of the executive management team to the membership and I advocate on behalf of our members to allow them to get the resources they need."

She says her policing career makes her feel like "a kid caught in a candy store for 28 years."

But she admits it's been far from sugar-coated.

"There are certain cases that steal a piece of your soul," she says.

Early lessons

An only child, Layden grew up in Gambo where her parents, Sidney and Irene Layden, ran a general store.

They were trend-setters, too.

"We were the first in the area to have a custard cone machine back in the late 1960s," Layden recalls.

"For those who came to get one, it was a thrill. For me, who found myself perched on a stool all too often, pouring custard cone after custard cone, it wasn't all that exciting," she says with a laugh.

She said one of the biggest lessons she's learned in life occurred during her teenage years.

"I was rushing through the store and this salesman came in. He stopped to speak to me but I kept going, at which time he very quickly brought me up solid and told me that's not the way you behave, that you speak to people and you recognize people. A lesson well learned," she says.

She said her parents were surprised when she told them she was giving up studying physical education at university to join the police force, but they didn't discourage her choice of career.

"I think it was a quiet worry. They likely had their apprehensions but never expressed them to me," she said.

A smile crosses her face when she talks about her early years with the force.

Some officers' wives weren't happy to see female police officers, she says.

"And some of them were very vocal that they didn't want their husbands working with women, particularly night shifts, out in cars."

Some officers weren't happy about welcoming women into the force, either, Layden said, but others were quite supportive, and several of them became her mentors.

"Pat Ledwell was known as a policeman's policeman. Staff-Sgt. Larry Payton, who is retired, was very encouraging and still is to this day," she said, adding that retired deputy chief Gary Browne was also a mentor.

She credits the current management team, particularly Chief Joe Browne, with encouraging women to join the force.

There are currently about 500 officers and civilian employees, and today there are only a couple of dozen who haven't worked with female officers.

While she's done well in job competitions, Layden describes herself as a "reluctant manager, initially."

"If there was a rank that I aspired to it was staff sergeant, because it is the highest rank within the rank-and-file where you are still pretty active in front-line duties," she says.

Layden has certificates from the Canadian Police College and Dalhousie University and is one course shy of a police studies degree from Memorial University.

Bright future

Layden says the RNC has gone through some turbulent times as an organization but it has weathered the storm.

"When an organization that you care so very much about is going through some pretty dark times, it's difficult for everyone. ... But there is strength in an organization in how you deal with challenges. And I think we've dealt with them very well."

While Layden has no plans to retire anytime soon, there are only two ranks higher than superintendent: deputy chief and chief. These positions are held by competent people, she says, who will likely remain where they are for several more years.

But if one of those positions did become vacant, she wouldn't rule out seeking another promotion.

"But that's not where my sights are set right now," she says.

"I love what I do and I wouldn't change it for anything."

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Canadian Police College, Street Patrol, Dalhousie University

Geographic location: Gambo

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