By RON FANFAIR
The face of the Toronto Police Service was vastly different some four decades ago when Keith Forde joined the organization.
There were just a handful of Black officers at the time in 1972 after Jamaican-born Larry McLarty broke the colour barrier 12 years earlier and Forde certainly felt lonely at times going for weeks without running into officers who looked like him.
It was certainly not a good feeling and Forde vowed that he would do something to change it if he was ever given the chance.
The opportunity surfaced in August 2005 when he was appointed the organization’s first Black deputy chief and placed in charge of the Human Resources Command with responsibility for community mobilization and staff planning.
After 38 years of dedicated service, Forde is leaving one of the most inclusive organizations. Of the almost 5,500 uniformed officers, nearly 18 per cent are visible minorities and the TPS was last March recognized as one of Canada’s 45 Best Diversity Employers for the third straight year.
There are almost 300 Black officers, some of them in strategic positions including Deputy Chief Peter Sloly who is in charge of the Executive Command, Staff Inspector Mark Saunders who heads the Homicide Unit, Staff Inspector David McLeod who is the unit commander at 13 Division, Inspector Anthony Riviere who is second in command at 31 Division and Sonia Thomas who is set to become the organization’s first Black female Inspector.
Being the top Black cop in the city puts Forde in a very visible position where he’s a role model and mentor for many of the visible minorities who are now part of the organization, and he has been instrumental in successfully encouraging many to consider policing as a career option.
Police Board Chair Alok Mukherjee announced Forde’s retirement at last week’s board meeting.
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank Deputy Forde for his many impressive achievements, his progressive initiatives and, above all, the exceptional legacy he is sure to leave behind,” said Mukherjee. “He has been an outspoken advocate for equity in all forms and a passionate champion of the need for measures to deal effectively with any expressions of racism within the service and with the community.
“He has, as well, been a strong believer in our responsibility as employer to the health, safety and wellness of those who work for us. It is as a result of his tireless efforts that this service looks more like the community than it ever did before, values the many cultural and language skills our employees possess and has received numerous awards for successes in the area of human resources.”
Chief Bill Blair has enjoyed a healthy personal and professional relationship with Forde for three decades.
“Today is a day that I have not looked forward to because, five years ago, this board approved Keith Forde to be a deputy and in making that decision, they set this organization on a path of change that has transformed this service,” Blair said. “In making that decision, it gave us a true leader who was recognized in the community, in the police service in Toronto and police services across the country and the world.
“He made new policies to attract the most excellent recruits from our diverse communities and he was the champion behind initiatives to bring that great diversity and with it language skills and cultural competencies. He improved immeasurably the way in which we deliver our training and our training standards and he helped us redefine our relationships with the city’s many diverse communities. There is no way to properly describe his vast contributions.
“Our organization is different today because of Keith Forde and his retirement leaves a huge gap, shoes that are going to be nearly impossible to fill.”
Forde came to Canada from Barbados in 1969 and spent three years in Montreal, pursuing an Economics degree at Concordia University (formerly Sir George Williams University).
In early 1972, he switched careers choosing instead to pursue law enforcement after recognizing the need for more visible minority officers in Montreal at the time. He came to Toronto later that year and joined the TPS where he spent a decade as a Constable working with 5 Division Traffic Unit’s Hit & Run squad and the Morality Bureau Undercover Project. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1982, Staff Sergeant four years later, Inspector in 1990 and Staff Inspector a year later.
Forde was elevated to Superintendent in December 1999 and Unit Commander in charge of the Charles O. Bick Training College in January 2003.
“There is never a good time to leave an organization that you really love or has brought you so much personal satisfaction,” he said. “But there is a right time and, for me, that time is now. I am leaving with no regrets because I believe the time is right now for new blood, new leadership, new perspectives and new ideas to be infused into the human resources command. I think what makes this service one of the best in the world, if not the best, is the constant refreshing of ideas in all ranks.
Forde, whose last day on the job is August 31, said he never used his rank as deputy chief to exercise power.
“Instead, I saw it as an opportunity to render service. I never saw my advancement as getting more but instead it was giving more because I am blessed to be where I am.”
His community contributions are extensive.
He donates scholarships to young students in Barbados and Canada, is an active member of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE), a fundraiser for sickle cell research and a former member of the United Way’s African-Canadian Fundraising and the Barbados Consulate Advisory committees.
Forde also played a pivotal role in paving the way for the Scarborough-based Church of the Nativity to purchase its own building and he was a key player in the acquisition of a Scarborough recreational field that was renamed The Percy Cummins Cricket ground in 1998 in memory of the Toronto police officer who was killed in the line of duty.
Cummins, a close friend of Forde and former Royal Barbados Police Force member, was fatally shot in Toronto’s west end in 1981.
In retirement, Forde plans to travel and spend quality time with his grandchildren and three children who are also members of the Toronto Police Service.
Sons Roger and Ryan are Sergeants while daughter Rhealyn works in Communication Services.