Can a female police chief soften society? : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Monday, October 9, 2000

First big-city female police chief retires Calgary's top cop steps down after 29 year career By CAROL HARRINGTON-- The Canadian Press

CALGARY (CP) -- When a police officer was killed by a drunk driver last June, Chief Christine Silverberg went to the widow's home to comfort the family.

The dishes piled up as family and friends came and went, so Calgary's top cop rolled up her sleeves, plunged into a sink of soapy water and scrubbed until everything was clean.

"That was really inspiring," Al Koenig, president of the Calgary Police Association, said of the first female chief of a major metropolitan force in Canada.

"That sure showed the human side of her a lot more than our members usually see."

After 29 years of police work, Silverberg retires Tuesday to become an international consultant and go to law school.

Cops are reminiscing about "the lady at the top," and there is no shortage of stories about her five years as chief.

Although the Calgary police commission voted unanimously to hire Silverberg, there was much debate on local radio talk shows and in newspapers. Cowtown was still considered a boys club and there was concern about whether the rank and file would take orders from a woman.

The day after her appointment a body outline of an officer with red regulation police paint appeared on the entrance of the police headquarters. But Silverberg wasn't easily spooked.

One of her first mandates was to clean up a top-heavy police hierarchy and give a stronger voice to street cops. In less than a year, she cut deep into an entire level of bureaucracy, handing retirement packages to 13 of the most senior officers.

"She's the chief, and she tells you the rules, saying, 'If you can't live with that, then don't let the door hit your ass on your way out,'" said Koenig.

"The ones who left perhaps weren't able to stomach working for a woman."

Having made her own way up the ranks, Silverberg has dealt with plenty of sexist remarks and attitude.

"The biggest hurdle has always been proving I could do the job," said Silverberg, 50.

While working as a correctional officer at the Vanier Centre for Women in Brampton, Ont., in 1971, Silverberg went to the nearby Mississauga police force to respond to a newspaper ad. She wore a miniskirt.

The police chief kept leaving the room, returning empty-handed, saying he couldn't find the forms. After persistently waiting for eight hours, Silverberg got the job and became the second woman on the force.

When she entered police college in the late 1970s, she was one of three women among hundreds of men. Her male colleagues secretly called her Silver Tits.

On the last day of the six-week course, Silverberg stood in front of her class, slowly unbuttoned her blouse and took it off, flashing a dark T-shirt that read Silver Tits.

"It was certainly a lark, in part," she said in a recent interview.

"I wanted the guys to know I knew what they were calling me for six weeks," she said. "Then we all went and played volleyball and I kept on my T-shirt."

Ever since early childhood Silverberg has had to keep up with the boys, including two older brothers with whom she played on the family's dairy farm near Brampton.

"The boys wouldn't have her playing with them if she couldn't keep up," said her mother, Susie Bertram. "So she always had to work just a little bit harder in order to do that."

When her younger sister, Catherine Nanton, became a cop for the Peel Regional Police Service in Ontario, she received a button from Christine. It read: "As you climb the ladder of success, make sure the boys don't look up your dress."

Silverberg eventually earned her master's degree in criminology at the University of Toronto. By 1983, she was appointed inspector and seven years later she became director in the Policing Services Division of Ontario's Solicitor General Ministry, where she reviewed police departments across the province.

In 1992 she became a deputy chief of the Hamilton-Wentworth police and three years later she went to Calgary as chief.

Silverberg's first challenges were to address the department's poor morale and reshape a traditional paramilitary force into an organization that worked with communities.

Her greatest legacy was probably to create a domestic violence unit to forge stronger ties between victims and outside agencies. It's an effort to offer some long-term solutions to the problem.

Silverberg often worked 16-hour days and, unlike her predecessors, sought the spotlight through public speeches and local media. But that high profile came with a high price.

Death threats were not uncommon for Silverberg shortly after her arrival in Calgary. The city's police commission permitted her to use four high-ranking officers as bodyguards.

Last year, a potentially lethal letter bomb mailed to her office was intercepted and defused. Criminologists speculated Silverberg was targeted because she was a woman with a gun who also happens to be Jewish.

Two years ago, Silverberg won a contract dispute with her employers -- the city of Calgary and the police commission -- over her $138,000 salary contract. The city had to pick up her $85,000 legal bill.

Last summer, city aldermen were broadsided when the chief publicly stated that some Calgary cops were underpaid.

"To have the police chief go solidly on the side on her union and not with the City of Calgary, who happens to pay her wage, seemed a little bit of a slap in the face," said Ald. Sue Higgins.

But even some foes have high regard for the chief.

"You have to have respect for an adversary who keeps you on your toes the whole time," said Higgins, a popular, crusty civic politician with a penchant for the f-word.

"She's a tough lady."

After three decades of police work, Silverberg said she is leaving the job on a high note. She feels her mission as chief -- to jump-start community policing -- has been successful.

She wants to spend more time with her husband, a teacher, and her children, Avi, 13, and Rebecca, 15.

She has handed in her gun and will be picking up the books.

"I want to follow a life-long dream I've had, going to law school," she said, adding she will use her experience to become a national and international consultant -- in Calgary.

"This isn't the end of a book," said Jim Gray, the chairman of Canadian Hunter Exploration Ltd. who has worked with Silverberg.

"This is the end of a chapter and it will be interesting to read the rest of the book."

-- viewer (, October 10, 2000


when men won,t be men GOD does his wonders!! who was the 1st--to see the RISEN LORD JESUS? A WOMAN!! get the message boy,s=GROW--UP!!

-- luv it. (, October 10, 2000.

Officer, officer, I need a good frisking!

-- (, October 10, 2000.


So, a female cop is some sort of sign from God that men won't be men? If so, God must have really been cranked off at Joan of Arc.

-- Jim Cooke (, October 10, 2000.

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