Many GO Transit and UP Express customers may not have known the name of the top officer keeping them safe over the past eight years. But as Metrolinx director of security Bill Grodzinski retires, after transforming the transit safety division into a modern ‘guardians of the journey’ team, we look back on how his work helped a lot of people get safely home each night.
After so many encounters, one of the ones that comes quickly to mind for outgoing director of security Bill Grodzinski – fondly referred to simply as ‘Chief’ – revolves around a teenager who became confused while leaving a Toronto ball game.
An encounter with a 13-year-old boy who was separated from friends still brings a smile.
“I was in Union Station a few years ago helping manage a huge crowd (prior to COVID-19) after a Jays Game that got out during a rush hour, and this young lad looked desperate,” Grodzinski recalled. “He said he got separated from his friends and needed to catch his train, but his friend had his ticket. I gave him my business card and told him to get on his train and to call me if anything went wrong.
“He looked incredulous, but he rushed up the platform stairs to his train and I thought that was it.
“A few weeks go by, and I am on the platform one day and I hear this voice: ‘Bill, Bill it’s me’. I look up and sure enough it’s the young boy. He excitedly yells, ‘I got my ticket this time’, as he waves it around with a big smile.”
The encounter made Grodzinski chuckle.
“Catching the bad guy who has done bad stuff on the train is gratifying, but nothing is more gratifying when you can make a bad experience a little bit better for someone,” he noted.
The brief meeting with a young boy set the stage for shifting the main focus of the safety unit from enforcement to one of customer service and improving the image and profile of the transit security and safety division.
After an award-winning 42 year-career of wearing a badge, including the past eight-years with Metrolinx, Grodzinski is reflecting on the people who left a lasting impression on him.
When he first started his duty with Metrolinx, Grodzinski was on hand at two different ‘incident’ trains in the early weeks of his job.
He quickly experienced what it was like for both customers and staff – as well as grieving loved ones – when people die by rail suicide. He saw first-hand the long, confusing wait for passengers, the huge emotional toll on transit safety officers investigating these tragedies, the operational complexities of getting trains moving again safely, and the cooperation and coordination between partner agencies.
These experiences gave the seasoned officer a perspective that shaped the path ahead for him.
“I will never forget some of the families I have met and the customers on board trains that I have tried to assist,” said Grodzinski, looking away during an interview as emotions began to resurface along with the memories.
“Life is stressful at the best of times, but with COVID, normal workloads have changed and the exceedingly difficult task of attending the scenes of rail fatalities has sadly continued.
“And our dedicated staff have been there on the frontlines every day no matter what they have had to face.”
Since he took over leadership in 2012, Metrolinx has implemented enhancements to the peer supports and mental health services for staff who respond to fatalities. Metrolinx now has a comprehensive communication strategy in place as well, that puts the customer and loved ones first, as well as an internal Suicide Intervention Committee that is expanding on successes and implementing innovative new solutions.
Also, on his priority list was to develop strong partnerships and relationships across community and stakeholder groups, including police and transit agencies across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
After 33 years of working in leadership as an O.P.P. officer, he knew building pride, leading with the heart and head, as Grodzinski describes it, builds ‘leaders without rank’ who are both empowered and accountable.
“Guardians of the Journey isn’t just a name on the badge,” he explained. “It means safety and customer first at all times.”
Grodzinski is known for having an open mind to new ideas.
“One of the first suggestions, amongst the many staff put forward, was to open Twitter accounts for officers,” Grodzinski recalled.
“Getting on social media opened many doors, including recruiting talented staff from diverse communities, celebrating successes which build morale and connecting with the community.
“Most importantly, it helped make our officers more accessible, more human to our customers.”
More than using social media, Grodzinski, who is well know in the police and security world across Canada, leaves a reputation as someone who evolved his team with leading-edge innovation and old-fashioned compassion.
“Bill has been a committed member of our organization and provided fantastic service,” said Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. “His positive and constructive leadership has played an important role in the transformation of the safety division.
“Most of all, I valued Bill’s integrity, which was evident in the work he did every day especially during the difficult times.”
One of those difficult times was the extraordinary flood in 2013 – which caused massive power outages across the city and put a train under six feet of water in the Don River – was the genesis of a formal Emergency Management Program at Metrolinx.
The organizational response to the pandemic has benefited from the work of the Emergency Management Unit, with the Incident Command Team following the established systems developed through the unit and helping ensure both staff and customers remain safe.
Another key milestone for Grodzinski was the establishment of a dedicated Investigations and Intelligence Unit, to ensure a safe and secure system in a network that crosses 14 different police jurisdictions.
Under his leadership, a bike patrol program was also initiated and quickly became a successful and popular way to enhance safety and an efficient way to have officers quickly move around the Union Station corridor.
“This remains a program that needs to be nurtured, supported and continued no matter how Metrolinx grows,” Grodzinski said, adding the future should include ebikes and all-terrain ebikes.
Although it took a long time implementing, given it was so unique for transit safety in Canada, Metrolinx launched a Canine Explosive Detection Program in 2019. Under the guidance of Toronto Police Services trainers, there are now three service dogs and their dedicated handlers trained to watch over customers and the transit routes they use.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved throughout 2020, Grodzinski saw the spotlight shift to focus on health and safety, mental health and systemic racism, as well as other forms of discrimination, inclusiveness and inequity. There is much work to do, but he is proud of the initiatives that his team has begun.
Grodzinski is particularly proud of the work done to support Ontario Women in Law Enforcement and the first-ever Women in Transit Policing Symposium, jointly hosted in 2018 and again in 2019 in partnership with members from Toronto Transit Commission and York Region Transit.
Grodzinski leaves the role with full confidence in the team he has built. Inspector of operations Steve Weir, who has been appointed acting director, has been with Metrolinx for the past 21 years in roles from front line officer to prosecutor and manager of different portfolios.
“Bill has built an incredible team that will continue our mission of being the guardians of the journey, providing customer service, while ensuring the security, safety and well-being of every customer,” Weir said.
“Bill is a true leader and has taught us all how to find that in ourselves and pull it out of others.”
And this is how his post, and this story, ends. After a career of watching out for threats – including a global virus – as well as those who mean us harm, chief Grodzinski leaves Metrolinx as a bit of an optimist.
“This pandemic has brought out the worst in people on some days, but more often the very best,” he said. “It has challenged each of us in different ways and to those who are on the front lines, your dedication and professionalism is deeply appreciated.
“The vaccine is coming and, in the meantime, keep up the great work and be well and stay safe.”
Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager of media.