Chief Jim Chu: A leader for all seasons
Serving as the top cop in one of Canada’s largest cities might sound like a daunting job, but for Jim Chu, who became the first non-white chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department in 2007, it’s a dream come true. It all started with a childhood admiration and respect for the police.
“When I was young, police officers would come to my school and talk to us about how to cross the street,” Chu said in an interview with China Daily. “I really admired and respected those officers. And when I got a little older, I served as the school’s safety patrol volunteer helping kids cross the street.”
It was on a winter day in 1979 when the 19-year-old Chu was driving to school and listening to the radio that everything changed.
“I was going to Simon Fraser University. It was a very cold, wintry day, and studies were tedious. Then the chief of the Vancouver Police Department came on the radio answering questions,” recalled Chu. “Somebody phoned up and asked how to apply to become a police officer, and he said just come down to 312 Main and put your application in.”
Chu turned his car around, went to the police station and submitted an application. Three months later, he began the first chapter of his career in the police force as a constable on patrol.
Born in Shanghai in 1959, Chu immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 3. As the oldest of four children, Chu grew up in a tough eastside neighborhood of Vancouver.
Since there were few Chinese immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, Chu felt both Chinese and Canadian when he grew up. He would go to Chinatown with his mother to buy groceries and hasn’t forgotten Chinese traditions and heritage. He still celebrates Chinese New Year with his family and relatives.
Despite encountering racism as an ethnic minority in school, Chu embraced his Canadian identity through his love of street hockey, baseball, football and rugby.
“He was good at athletics, good at academics. He was a standup guy, one of the more serious individuals,” says Nick Trasolini, Chu’s rugby teammate.
After graduating from high school, Chu continued his studies in business administration while working for the Vancouver police. His early assignments included patrol constable, school liaison officer and planning and research.
Chu married fellow Police Officer Vicki Markham and started a family. At the same time, he continued to pursue higher education, earning an MBA from the University of British Columbia in 1989.
Later that year, he was promoted to corporal in the communications section, and made detective in 1990. He had investigative assignments on many high-profile cases.
Despite the demands of both Chu and his wife working as full-time police officers, the couple went to as many of their children’s games and school events as they could.
“Fairly early on, you could tell he was a guy who had all kinds of potential,” remembers Andy Hobbs, a friend of Chu’s who also graduated from the police academy. “He was very competent, very thoughtful. But the personal thing I admire most is just the family side of him.”
During the 1990s, Chu was assigned to a variety of positions, including patrol sergeant, recruiting sergeant and project manager for emergency communications.
Even with his busy schedule, Chu still found time to serve as library board trustee for eight years.
“Volunteering as a library trustee was rewarding and helped me with leadership and strategic-thinking skills,” said Chu, who hopes more young Chinese-Canadians who want to be community leaders get involved in volunteer work.
Chu has received a number of awards, including a “Super Trustee” award from the BC library association in 1999, an honorary degree from the Justice Institute of BC in 2010, and a Distinguished Alumni award in 2010 from Simon Fraser University.
In 2001, he returned to patrol as an inspector and commander.
“The interesting thing about policing is you can have five or six jobs in your career,” said Chu. “I served as patrol sergeant for five years, so you are not only going to 911 calls out on the streets of Vancouver, you are also supervising others, and that taught me a lot about leading people.”
Chu was promoted to deputy chief of the department’s support services division in 2003, and deputy chief of operations support in 2006.
“As a police officer and for every promotion I had, it was important for me to show I could do the job and that I wasn’t selected on the basis of my ethnic background,” said Chu.
In May 2007, the governor general awarded Chu the Order of Merit of Police Forces. The following month Chu was named the new chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department.
On his watch, the city’s violent crime and homicide rates dropped dramatically between 2007 and 2014.
Some of his career highlights include diffusing gang wars, policing the Winter Olympics in 2010, handling the Stanley Cup riot in 2011, settling an Occupy protest at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2011, and holding regular lunches with the homeless, drug users and sex workers.
“As police chief, I really wanted to again show that I have the knowledge of the city, I have the knowledge of policing methods and I could be a leader for this organization, and also a community builder,” said Chu.
“I think Vancouver’s multiculturalism can continue to set an example for other parts of the world. But newcomers should understand that there is a ‘ Canadian culture’ that exists and they should find ways to learn more about their new country,” Chu said.
The 36-year veteran has announced he will retire as chief this spring after nearly eight years in the top role.
Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department
Age: Education: • Bachelor of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University MBA, University of British Columbia Graduate of the FBI National Executive Institute
• Career: • Constable in Patrol (1979) • Corporal in Communications Section (1989-1990) Detective (1990-1991)