It’s a success story more than three decades in the making.
After her swearing-in ceremony at Innisfil Town Hall on Wednesday morning, Sheryl Sutton became the eighth deputy chief in the South Simcoe Police Service’s 26-year history.
Local dignitaries, colleagues, family, friends, and previous mentors and supervisors of Deputy Chief Sheryl Sutton gathered for her swearing-in ceremony. Community members were invited to join the event via the town's YouTube page.
A veteran in law enforcement and the recipient of many commendations, including a Chief’s Commendation for Meritorious Service, the Police Exemplary Service Medal, a Chief of Police Award, and an Award of Excellence for Investigation, Sutton brings more than 34 years of experience to her new role.
“Throughout her career, Insp. Sutton has been a trailblazer,” said Bradford West Gwillimbury-Innisfil Police Services Board chair Chris Gariepy. “She was the first female officer to join the emergency response unit, which (is) commonly called the ERU.”
He explained that she was the officer in charge of the ERU for a time, and she worked in the Criminal Investigation Bureau as a sexual assault/child abuse investigator.
Before her new badge was presented, Gariepy said: “Deputy Chief Designate Sutton was a natural choice for this leadership position … Her pride and passion for the South Simcoe Police Service and its members and its communities will serve us well.”
A graduate of Georgian College’s law and security administrative program, Sutton is a proud supporter of the Special Olympics and the Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run.
“She also became the first female officer to hold the rank of inspector in this service,” Gariepy said.
Police Chief John Van Dyke explained to those in attendance and watching online what Sutton's new role entails.
“The role of deputy chief is an important one,” he said. “Working closely with the chief, the deputy manages the day-to-day operations of the service. As the No. 2 in the organization, the deputy can step in as chief, if necessary. But one of the most crucial aspects of the role of a deputy is being a trusted adviser to the chief.
"I told her, the best way that she can support me and support the service is to give me the honest, unfiltered truth about what I need to know and what I need to hear. I am confident that Sheryl will do just that," Van Dyke added.
Sgt. Deborah Smith, who served as emcee for the swearing-in, and Sutton started their policing careers together at 31 Division in Toronto in 1988 before Sutton joined the Innisfil Police Force in 1995 and remained with the South Simcoe Police Service.
“I remember when Sheryl was first promoted to sergeant and was assigned to a uniformed shift. The staff sergeant on that platoon was none other than our chief, John Van Dyke," Smith said.
"It only seems fitting that, once again, Sheryl Sutton and John Van Dyke are back working together again, only this time at the top of our organization and making a difference,” she added.
Sutton spoke about how a shift in thinking that encouraged her to consider the organization as a whole occurred 25 years into her career after her role changed from a patrol sergeant to a court sergeant at the insistence of Van Dyke, who was a staff sergeant at the time.
“The (police) service is a sum of all of our parts, all equally important,” she said, while addressing the police chief. “You were not wrong, look where I am today. We have different — oh, so very different — yet compatible leadership styles. I don’t know how or why it works, but it does.
“The true measure of a good leader is not how they perform when in a position they want, but how you lead when you’re in a position that you never wanted," Sutton added.
Van Dyke spoke about one of the darkest days in the history of South Simcoe police — the deaths of two officers while in the line of duty after a shooting at an Alcona home on Oct. 11, 2022.
“We are still recovering from the loss of Morgan Russell and Devon Northrup, and her steady leadership and guidance has already proven invaluable,” he said. “It has been said that leaders are forged in times of crisis, and that’s certainly the case with Sheryl. Her hard work and leadership in the weeks that followed the deaths of Morgan and Devon was evident for all to see.”
“We have tremendous community support, which I can assure you, we do not take for granted," she said. "I will continue to build those relationships while embracing diversity and inclusion as we navigate modern policing. We are in this together. My goal is to bring stability and continuity to our service as we continue to heal.
"Policing is an honourable profession, but it is increasingly challenging, and I know it’s not easy some days to come into work. I know some of you are struggling,” Sutton said to her colleagues. “I will continue to ensure that you have the resources that you need.”
Deputy Chief Sutton thanked the police services board for selecting her, adding she was “thrilled to be given this opportunity ... I am extremely humbled, honoured and proud to be your next deputy chief of police.”
She also thanked her family and wished her parents a happy anniversary, as they celebrate 60 years together.
“You instilled in me a high work ethic, integrity and the importance of family. You keep me grounded and I thank you for that," Sutton said.