EDMONTON — It was early in his new career as a Constable with the Edmonton Police Service when reality hit former Alouettes defensive-lineman Robert Brown with the same ferocity with which he struck terror in opposing quarterbacks for 10 seasons.
He had to draw his gun — a 9-mm Glock — on a woman at crisis with her common-law husband who decided to start smashing windows with a hammer, was asked to drop the weapon, but wouldn’t. Eventually, she acquiesced. But for a few brief moments, Brown admits, his heart was pumping pretty good; the rush of adrenaline almost overpowering.
“I played with emotion, but out here you really have to control those things … being able to have a conversation with someone in crisis,” Brown said this week during an interview at the downtown division of Edmonton’s police headquarters — and before he was to begin a 10-hour shift at 5 p.m.
“I have to be honest — there have been times when I was scared,” he said, hesitating before answering the question. “You’re following a stolen ride. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know. There’s always a heightened awareness. Is that being scared? You don’t know what this potentially could turn into.”
Brown spent a successful and prosperous decade in the CFL, mostly with the Edmonton Eskimos. But in the midst of his career, he signed with the Als as a free-agent in 2002, spending four seasons in Montreal before returning to the Esks as a free agent. He won the Grey Cup with the Als his first season, losing two others.
At the height of his athletic career, Brown earned $150,000, which included incentives, for a 4 1/2-hour day from June until November. As a cop, his salary is $70,000, although he can pull in another $20,000 by accepting special duties. For this Brown, who’s married and the father of two young boys, will tell you he risks his life on a daily basis. It’s also why the soft-spoken and reflective 41-year-old, a deeply spiritual person, tells his wife and children on a daily basis how much he loves them.
Brown, still an imposing 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds, has never fired his gun. Nor has he been fired upon. That, however, doesn’t mean he hasn’t been faced with danger or perilous scenarios.
“Any call with someone else’s blood flying around. You have to understand, these are things you don’t see every day,” he said. “Someone could be bleeding from the head because they got hit with a brick, slashed on the arm because someone had a machete. You have to go find these people — but you have to take care of the (other) person, making sure they don’t die. There are things that happen right away that are scary and do happen.
“Death,” he added. “It’s always difficult. We, as officers, go to those calls more than you need to. There’s a lot of them. It’s going there … seeing … smelling. Death’s very traumatic. Whether they die naturally or commit suicide.”
When Brown, who considered himself a student of the game, retired after the 2007 season, he took a year off, contemplating his future. With a degree in exercise physiology from the University of Southern Mississippi, he considered returning to the U.S. to teach or continue his education. But he also wanted to give back to the community and make a difference in peoples’ lives.
Perhaps subconsciously, he was driven to police work. His father was a police officer in the U.S. military for 19 years, rising to the rank of Sergeant. Brown knew officers in Edmonton who worked in the community, donating their time and influencing lives. He did several ride-alongs as a civilian before enrolling in the police academy in February 2009. He graduated a year later and, following a three-month probationary period, a career was born.
But there was a steep learning curve, Brown admits, and plenty of errors along the way. The physical training was the least of his concerns, but he had never fired a handgun, had to study the Criminal Code and Charter of Rights, understanding the law. He didn’t even know, understandably, the procedure behind an arrest. Shift work was foreign to him, as was working with females.
“But anyone with a sports background would understand policing. It’s a team atmosphere. You have goals to accomplish,” Brown explained. “It’s everything … leadership, knowing your role, being organized. It seemed like a perfect and natural fit.”
But some three years ago, Brown decided to take a slightly different path within the police service, becoming part of the School Resource Officer Unit. The majority of his days are now spent patrolling the hallways at Eastglen High School, an inner-city educational institution where, according to Brown, trouble can easily be found with an enrolment of close to 900 students.
Brown’s one of 19 SRO’s, working in conjunction with the school’s administrators, hoping to steer these teenagers, easily influenced, down the road to prosperity. Or at least away from a potential life of crime. Brown, in his own small way, is trying to change the perceptions of police officers — trying to convince these kids they’re not all bad. He volunteers his time, coaching football and conducting strength conditioning workouts. In 2014, Brown won the Kiwanis Top Cop Award.
“Having that influence … letting them see we’re not actually police officers. We work as them, but we’re normal people — fathers, husbands, brothers,” he said. “Yes, there are some bad kids out there. Can we influence them to do better? I believe we can. Are there kids who believe police officers in schools are a joke? Yeah. Can we police that? Yes. Try to help them before they get into the judicial system.
“If they have questions or problems at home, this is less intrusive than going to a police station. It builds relationships and bridges. Now, it gets picked up immediately. We’re able now to intercede. At the end of the day you’re able to influence kids — kids who will be citizens for the better.”
And Brown’s making an impact. “Rob has been successful in reaching individuals. He has used his knowledge and ability from football to gain respect. He’s willing to talk to them,” said acting Sergeant Danny Franklin. “It’s his presence. You can’t ignore that physical presence he has the second he walks through the door.
“He’s a great guy. I respect him as an officer and person. He certainly has earned that level of respect.”