Breaking the old boys club - former EPS deputy chief reflects on 27-year career

Former deputy chief of police, Danielle Campbell, talks about the discrimination and misogyny she faced as she rose through the ranks of EPS.

WARNING: Contains language some readers might find offensive

Former deputy police chief, Danielle Campbell with her dog, Echo. Campbell was the first female dog handler with the Edmonton Police Service in 1994. (supplied by Danielle Campbell )

Danielle Campbell walked into the canine unit 20 years ago as the first female graduate of the Edmonton Police Service dog handler program.

She faced insults, taunts and the reek of urine on her belongings.

"When I was in the unit they drew Xs on my eyes and they drew cocks around my face, a whole bunch of them ... they would urinate on my gear.

'It was ridiculous," she said, referring to how a picture of her and her dog was defaced. "The sergeant in charge did nothing about it. Nothing."

Campbell, 51, is no longer a police officer with EPS. She ended her 27-year-career in August 2016 when she resigned as deputy chief of police, the highest rank achieved by a woman within the city's police force.

She has time now to reflect on a career of many firsts — first female forensic polygraph examiner, first openly gay police officer on the force when she joined — from her new office at MacEwan University, where she's now an assistant professor in the police investigations department.

"The fact that it happened to be the first time, it's crazy to me that it took that long for it to be, it's a sad state of affairs, but it's not because I am something special," she said.

Equally crazy is that the second female dog handler within the force just graduated recently.

Campbell was at the graduation ceremony with her spouse, also a police officer, and said it was a proud moment for her; a rare moment for a woman who is almost awkwardly humble about her achievements.

"I love policing. It truly for me was a calling, it still is. It's bred in the bone with me," Campbell declared.

Her departure was civil, ultimately a decision by current police Chief Rod Knecht to not renew her contract.

"Of course I miss it. I don't miss the fourth floor, the executive suite, the office of the chief and the deputies. I miss the people," she said. "But all chapters come to an end. My chapter came to an end.

It was Campbell's interest in dogs that got her into policing, after she saw her brother-in-law in action as a dog handler with the RCMP.

It's also the canine unit and her fight to be part of the unit, where she faced the most challenges in her 27-year-career with EPS.

A high-ranking officer in the human resources division told her she had to sign a document saying she wouldn't get pregnant.

She was also told she could never become a dog handler because of her gender due to concerns over her menstrual cycle affecting the dog.

"I burst out laughing. But he didn't laugh with me, he was dead serious," she said.

"I just stood up and I said 'This conversation is over. You have absolutely no empirical data to support that. That is just ridiculous,' and I walked out. And to be honest with you that's when I thought I was going to be fired."

She wasn't fired and neither was the officer or officers who sent her a Barbie doll in the mail, noose around its neck with the note: "No split tails in the dog unit, take a hint bitch."

But times changed. Rising through the EPS ranks, Campbell eventually became the boss of some of her biggest detractors.

After leaving EPS, Danielle Campbell took a job with MacEwan University as an assistant professor. (Trisha Estabrooks )

"I really believe that so much has improved, and there's so much more support for diversity and inclusivity and gender equality.

"But we're not fully there yet," she said, adding what she sees happening in the United States and, closer to home, in Alberta politics, is concerning.

Still passionate about a woman's role in top positions of leadership, Campbell hasn't ruled out the top job with a police force, but she isn't committing to it either.

"If I was meant to be a chief, it's for the Edmonton Police Service. My family is here, Nicole is here."

Chief Knecht's contract is in place until October 2018.

"And so I live very much in the moment, I'm fully committed to MacEwan, when that position becomes available I'll cross that bridge when it happens."