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Teacher leaves classroom behind for life as police officer

2012 marks 100 years since two women became officers in Vancouver

Before she became a police officer, Const. Julie Gilmore taught physical education and home economics as a school teacher.

The former lifeguard long wanted to become a paramedic or police officer but first she earned a degree and obtained her teaching certificate.

"If I didn't get in, I'd always have something to fall back on," she said.

Gilmore taught secondary school full-time for nearly three years before she switched to policing, drawn by the dynamism of the job.

"You never know what you're going to get," the 31-year-old said. "You have no idea what kind of day or calls you're going to go to. And then at the same time, it's kind of like teaching because you still get to contribute to community and society. I thought teaching was like that a little bit, but at some point, it all becomes the same."

This year marks 100 years since two women became the first female police officers in Vancouver, which was a first for Canada.

Now 24 per cent of officers on the job with the VPD are women, according to Sgt. Kevin Torvik, who's responsible for the recruiting unit. Gilmore, who was hired by the Vancouver Police Department in 2009, said her class of 30 police trainees was diverse in age and ethnic background. It included six women, a male former elementary school teacher and one Indo-Canadian man who spoke both Punjabi and Chinese and a former physiotherapist likely in his 40s.

Gilmore said a craving for variety was a common theme among her older peers.

"Most people just get antsy, they want a change, something that's different," she said. "I remember having one conversation with the physiotherapist and he kind of mentioned it's not that he doesn't like his [former] career, it's. like the same older people that are having hip replacements and you're doing rehab."

Gilmore didn't worry about facing sexism when she entered the department. Instead, she worried about the hours.

She likes working four days then having four days off, but night shifts can be difficult.

"I play soccer pretty competitively and I miss a lot of practices and I miss a lot of games," she said. "That was the hardest thing."

But while she could have continued on with teaching, there are aspects of the profession she's glad to have left behind.

"Things I don't miss, especially with the strike that came up, is the whole argument about class size composition and support for students. That's another reason why I don't think that I wanted to stay in teaching, because you have no control over that," she said.

Gilmore says it takes five years to gain experience in the VPD's various patrols and she's in no rush to move into a specialized role. But she might want to eventually work as a school liaison officer or in other positions that focus on youth.

Torvik said the department's next trainee class starts in November and could include up to 60 recruits.

"I'm expecting it's probably going to be 40 per cent women," he said.

"There's a huge Expo class, so that the members that were hired in '83, '84, '85, '86, they're all coming up to retirement age now, so you can expect a huge hiring increase in the next few years," he added. Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi