Julien Ponsioen

Neighbourhood Police Officer
• Vancouver, Canada
Julien Smiling - Behind the Uniform

“At the start of the pandemic everyone froze, it was like a ghost town. Now, as we approach winter, people are slowly using our services to go back to work and go out again”

Metro Vancouver Transit is like a town or city in its own right. Across the buses, elevated and commuter trains, subway and sea bus, we transport a million people every day. It’s a very safe system but, with those numbers, you’re going to have some problems, typically minor disturbances, assaults, thefts.

At the start of the pandemic everyone froze, it was like a ghost town.  Now, as we approach winter, people are slowly using our services to go back to work and go out again.

Like a lot of North America, we have an Opioid crisis going on here, people are dying every day.  On general patrol around the stations you’ll find people hooked on fentanyl, in trouble and needing our help.  It’s so common that our officers carry Naloxone nasal spray which, when someone has overdosed, we use to bring them back. 

The training for my first job, as a street paramedic, therefore often comes into play.  I was a Paramedic for 21 years, starting out in a small town called Sicamous – the houseboat capital of British Columbia.  It was very quiet there, especially in the winter months.  As a junior I was paid by the call out and in total we only had 300 a year – that first year I earned $4k and I’ve never struggled so much financially.  

Going up the ladder and gaining seniority in the Union got me the ultimate goal of becoming a full-time paramedic in Vancouver.  I loved it but the role became more operational and eventually I decided a change was needed. Policing had always been an option, but, until then, it had never been the right time.

With colleagues I set up ‘Out on Patrol’ to support LGBTQ people in policing and the community – a first in British Columbia”

So, at 39 years old, I put in an application with Metro Transit Police and went back to school.  While I couldn’t sprint like my classmates in their 20s, my background and experiences as a Paramedic really helped me when it came to the training scenarios.

It might sound odd if you take it too literally, but I’d learned how to talk.  I was comfortable speaking with people from the vulnerable sector, those living on the streets, active drug users. If you treat them with respect, that respect comes back to you. You soon understand that these people are no different to you, just been dealt a different hand in life. 

Communication is such a big part of what I do, in day-to-day policing and also in some initiatives I’m very proud of.  With colleagues I set up ‘Out on Patrol’ to support LGBTQ people in policing and the community – a first in British Columbia.  In just a few months we have 120 members and allies, even though our launch plans were scuppered by Covid.  We’ve got big plans for education and charitable work once the pandemic restrictions ease.

I’m the only openly gay male in my department but I didn’t want that to be just what I’m all about. I’ve started a weekly series on Twitter and Instagram called ‘Coffee with a Cop’ and people seem to really like it. I ask for questions and try to answer them as best I can.  We cover everything from showing and describing all the items on the police belt to interviews with colleagues – one of the most popular was with a Constable all the way from New Zealand.  Tune in!

All this means I’m quite visible locally now but growing up there was no indication I’d end up in policing – my father was a machinist and my mother a florist.  Now, all these years later, if you do see me on your morning commute in Vancouver, you’ll know I get great satisfaction from working in the community and keeping the Metro Transit system safe.

Hear Julien's views on

Policing in Canada VS The United States
Julien in Uniform- Behind the Uniform
Julien reading - Behind the Uniform
Julien sitting - Behind the Uniform

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