Leanne Alexander didn’t plan to end up in British Columbia.
Originally from Lake Taupo, New Zealand, she came to Canada in 1986 for a wedding, and simply stayed.
“My plan was to go to England [after the wedding] and then just travel around Europe,” she said.
She travelled Canada that summer, before finding work as a nanny. A couple of years later, at the suggestion of a friend, Alexander applied to work with BC Corrections. She secured her permanent residency, and then a job, working there for 12 years.
But then, she found she wanted to find a job where she felt she could make a difference. She had thought about being a police officer when she was a kid, she said, but it wasn’t until she had been in corrections for more than a decade before she considered joining the RCMP.
She went to Depot, where all RCMP cadets are trained, in 2007. As the oldest woman in her troop, she felt she had something to prove.
She excelled particularly at marksmanship, even though she had never held a pistol before.
She remembered a training exercise where they had to shoot a target 100 yards away with a shotgun. When her target came back, two shots were nearly dead centre, and the others clustered tightly around it.
“I won, and you could tell that it was interesting that a woman had won,” she said. “We had a troop of 32 and there were — and this is rare [to have so many]— nine women.”
“I looked around and there was a lot of shock,” she said. “It was exciting to me to have won it.”
As of 2016, a little over 21 per cent of Canadian RCMP officers were women. Which is “really not a lot,” said Alexander.
“We need more women, we need a different perspective on how to deal with [cases]. If you have men and women together, the variance is good.”
After graduating, Alexander was sent to her first posting in Surrey, and she’s been here ever since.
“In the first year I was here, I could not believe the things that I did,” she said, explaining that in one day, a general duty officer could respond to everything from parking complaints to reports of a homicide. “Every day I thought, ‘it can’t get any crazier than this,’ but then it did.”
What’s helped her more than anything is her life experience. Dealing with people, the most challenging part of her job, isn’t something that you can learn in a book, she said.
During her first five years on the force, she spent time in the major crime unit, and earned commendations for her service. In 2011, she was acknowledged for her work in responding to a home invasion, and in 2012, for talking a man through a suicide crisis.
Alexander promoted quickly, but knew that she wanted to go back to working as part of a smaller team. She transferred back to the road, this time in South Surrey. She did all the work of specific units, dealing with cases in drugs, property theft and auto crime, albeit on a smaller scale, and also community work. “Which is a lot of fun,” she said.
She became the acting district commander for the Cloverdale and Port Kells district about two years ago, and has continued to enjoy the mix of enforcement and community involvement.
She enjoys her role as acting commander because, “I can make things happen that I couldn’t when I was in general duty. I have more access here to have some effect on problems within the community and to act on solutions within the community.”
Her advice for women, or men, who want to join the RCMP is simple: “I say do it. I love this job.”
Being an RCMP officer has its struggles, she said, but in her experience the RCMP has always looked after her and her family. “For me, it’s been nothing but awesome,” she said.
“I recommend it to everybody, men and women.”