By Juliana Marin
When Toronto Deputy Chief Keith Forde graduated from Business Administration at Ryerson University in 1991, he already had 20 years of service under his belt with the Toronto Police.
Ryerson offered Forde what he was looking for at that time — a flexible study schedule and top-notch professors. He worked during the day and studied after 7 p.m., keeping his eye on the goal of one day being promoted into the senior ranks.
Forde always wanted to be a police officer. He joined the service in 1972, a few years after he came to Canada from his native country, Barbados. “I have that passion for it,” he says. “And even after 34 years of service I still love working for my community.”
As Deputy Chief in charge of the Human Resources Command and the first African Canadian in a senior rank with the Toronto Service, Forde has worked determinedly to solve racial and community issues. He wants people to approach Toronto Police as an organization of choice.
“I am satisfied with my work and for being the first African Canadian Deputy Chief, and it is my responsibility to become a mentor and a role model,” Forde says. “But I’m not totally satisfied with the organization,” he adds. “We are the most diverse city in the world and the police service must be a mirror of society.”
From his office on the 7th floor of headquarters by College Park, Forde says that a model police organization must reflect the community’s diversity and that the organization should offer opportunities for continuing education for its members. Forde comes to his job at a challenging time for the city, with the year of the gun still on the minds of Torontonians.
But Forde is asking the community to put the numbers into context. “We had 72 homicides last year,” he acknowledges. “Toronto has a population of two and a half million and during the day it almost doubles because people come to work and study here.”
Even for a man as dedicated as Forde, his family takes top priority. His two sons, aged 31 and 29 and both police officers, and his daughter, 19, a student at the University of Toronto, are the most important part of his life, he says. Forde’s wife died of cancer in 2003 – 32 years after they exchanged their vows. “I value my family as number one, I always put them ahead of everything,” Forde says.
Which is maybe why he’s criticized by some as being almost too guarding of his boys. Dunstan Phillip, financial planner for Laurential Financial Services and Forde’s friend of 12 years, says that sometimes Forde is over-protective. “He’s so interested in what his boys and daughter do that I think sometimes he crosses the line a little bit.”
“I was more scared when my boys started to be police officers than when I started,” Forde admits. Chief Forde is also an active member of a Methodist church – even though he’s Anglican. He goes to church every Sunday at 9 a.m. and then works at home or attends conferences or meetings. “There are no weekends for a Deputy Chief in Toronto,” he says.
Phillips says Forde “does an enormous amount of work for the Methodist church. “He’s extraordinarily supportive of our community and does an excellent job with young people.” During the week, Chief Forde goes to the gym at 6 a.m. and by 7:45 a.m. he’s in his office. A regular day ends at 9 or 10 p.m. “Sometimes I feel tired but my job is interesting and I love what I do,” Forde says.
In four or five years, Forde will retire, but he says he will continue volunteering for his community. “I feel blessed to be where I am and I have to keep working for my people.”