Shortly after submitting his resignation, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Insp. Sean Ryan sent messages to the people who had the greatest affect on him during his 28-year policing career.
At the top of his list was the Pouch Cove town council and, through the town council, the residents of the community. Ryan was the incident commander responsible for co-ordinating the recovery efforts when three teenage boys from that community drowned on March 8, 2001.
In an email to the town, he wrote about how the people of Pouch Cove opened their arms to family, friends and strangers.
“I am truly honoured to have witnessed this powerful example of the human spirit and the defining hospitality of fellow Newfoundlanders. The spirit of these young men will live forever in me, along with the pride and love I hold in my heart for the people of Pouch Cove,” Ryan wrote.
During an interview in his office this week, Ryan said the boys’ deaths “tore at his heart.”
He had to put his own feelings aside, however, as he faced the scores of reporters who had come to report on the tragedy.
“I’m still a father and a man,” he said. “And I kept thinking of those boys under that ice and even with today’s technology we can’t get to them.”
A search and rescue helicopter found one of the victim’s bodies, while local fishermen found the other two. Ryan says he learned a valuable lesson from the tragedy.
“In retrospect, the experts were the people of the community. The fisherpersons who lived in that community knew the idiosyncrasies of that bay better than anybody else in the world.”
Ryan, 52, will retire from the RNC Sept. 28 as officer in charge of intelligence and organized crime.
He’s accepted a new position — director of regulatory compliance with the Newfoundland Liquor Corp.
A native of Grand Falls-Windsor, Ryan is the second youngest of 21 children.
The bulk of his career has been in the RNC’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). He spent 15 years with the force’s tactical and rescue team.
Ryan said he always looked for ways to make the public proud of the constabulary and its rich history.
“We are the oldest police force in North America. We’ve been around since 1729, and I was always hell-bent on making sure people didn’t forget that.”
Ryan was instrumental in establishing the force’s canine unit and in re-establishing the mounted unit. While those are among the highlights of his career, he says working in the sex crimes unit was one of the most rewarding positions he’s held.
“I was dealing with people at their worst — both from the victim perspective and the offender perspective. They were the most heinous, horrendous crimes that you can imagine. But I lived for it and I just loved it. I worked with people who had that same drive when we were in that unit.”
Ryan was determined to learn from other police forces and often travelled and trained with other forces in Canada and the United States.
Ryan recalls his enthusiasm in telling then police chief Len Power, about an upcoming training trip that he paid for on his own dime.
Power was always encouraging, he said.
“He was a learned man, a great guy. I’d go to him and say, ‘Sir, I’m heading to New York,’ or, ‘I’m going down to Philadelphia.’ He’d say, ‘Jeepers, Ryan, jeepers, you be careful about them ideas. Because, when you come back, they’re great, but we can’t support you because we haven’t got the money.’”
The RNC receives its share of funding from the provincial government now, but that wasn’t always the case, Ryan explains.
“I remember a car I had when I was with the CID — both the back doors were tied together with rope and the front seat was propped up with 2 x 4. We had nothing, so we had to be creative.”
In 2005, Ryan made a presentation to a Senate committee on the role of law enforcement in dealing with people with mental illnesses, and in May 2012, Gov. Gen. David Johnston inducted Ryan as a member of the Order of Merit of Police Forces.
He’s been able to do his job, he says, because of the support he’s received from the RNC and his family. Ryan and his wife, Carol Ann, have two daughters — 22-year-old Rebecca and 10-year old Sophia.
Carol Ann Ryan says she’s always been proud of her husband’s contributions to the RNC.
She acknowledges there were challenges raising their daughters as she worked as a nurse and her husband was often travelling or working extended hours.
“Myself and Sean did lots of negotiating with each other’s work schedules and if that didn’t work out, we got much appreciated help from good friends and neighbours to assist with the girls’ activities.”
Rebecca Ryan says she may not have realized it early on, but she knows now that growing up with a police officer as a father is one of the things that shaped her into the person she’s become.
Rebecca recently completed a biochemistry degree at Memorial University and her goal is to get accepted into medical school.
“As a teenager, the strict curfews and rules seemed like the worst thing at the time, but looking back on it, it instilled in me a type of fear from my father. Not the bad type of the fear, but the kind that I would never want to do anything to disappoint or disrespect him,” she says.
Her sister is only 10, but Rebecca says Sophia is proud that her daddy catches “the bad guys.”
“Her time is to come as a teenager but she’ll have me there to tell her ‘trust me — this will be the best thing that could ever happen to you,’” Rebecca says.
While he’s looking forward to his new position, Ryan says he’ll miss the RNC and the friends he’s made over the last three decades.
“I’m so proud of this organization. I’m just one member of a team. I’ve spent my adult life here. If it’s not who you are it has to be a part of who you are,” he said.
RNC Chief Robert Johnston considers Ryan a friend as well as a colleague.
“Sean is passionate about the RNC and leaves with a lot of memories. A lot of that is because he put a great deal of his heart and energy into the organization,” Johnston said.
He added that the constabulary has benefited from Ryan’s creativity over the years. Ryan even designed the RNC’s new dress uniform, which Johnston said represents the future as well as the past.
“Sean got it right, even down to the details of the whistle that’s affixed to the uniform. There was a time when there weren’t electronic communications like we have today, so that was Sean’s attention to detail that made that a reality,” the chief said.
Ryan also played a role in the design of the sculpture in the parkette dedicated to the constabulary at the intersection of New Gower Street and Queen’s Road in St. John’s — the work of Luben Boykov.
The large statue is of an RNC officer in 19th-century uniform holding a lantern in one hand and guiding a young girl with the other.
Johnston said Ryan’s new employer is lucky to have him.
“This is certainly a loss for the RNC, but I know that he’ll be available to our members to chat with or look to for guidance,” he said. “Sean has made a difference in this organization. He should be leaving proud of the accomplishments he’s made. I wish him all the best in his future endeavours and his new career.”