Though retired as a Sault Ste. Marie Police Service officer, Rob Gioia likes to keep busy and interact with others.
He recently joined Sault Area Hospital’s staff as a part-time porter, transporting patients to their treatments with compassion and moving medical equipment throughout the hospital.
“It’s important for me to remain active during retirement because it’s necessary to ensure an optimal state of well being. Wellness depends on mental and physical stimulation as well as positive social interactions. I’m doing that now as a porter at the hospital,” Gioia told SooToday.
The Sault native attended St. Mary’s College and graduated from Lake Superior State University’s Criminal Justice program before beginning a long and interesting police career.
As a Sault Police officer, Gioia was among the first group of officers to be trained by Toronto's Emergency Task Force before returning to help establish the Sault Police Emergency Services Unit.
As the first ESU officer to reach the rank of Sergeant, Gioia designed the ESU insignia which is still in use today.
“It was very gratifying helping to create the tactical unit from scratch. During 12 years in the unit I made lots of close friends, the kind that you can literally trust with your life. I enjoyed every minute of it,” Gioia said.
Assisted by a fellow officer, Gioia introduced the equipping of officers with tasers, patrol carbines and heavy vests.
With the new equipment came hundreds of hours of initial qualification and requalification.
“We lived at the outdoor gun range for months, not to mention the evolution of training scenarios and active shooter training. I can say that it was the best training that our officers have ever had,” Gioia said.
There are, of course, risks with being a cop.
“In my case there have been many bumps, bruises and stitches along the way including a dislocated shoulder and being dragged by a car,” Gioia recalled.
Gioia served both as an active officer and training officer with ESU as well as with the Community Mobilization Unit, which includes high school liaison officers, the Crisis Mobile Response Unit, the Neighborhood Resource Centre and community hubs.
After his work with ESU, Gioia moved on to make police presentations in schools.
“I delivered presentations about bullying, illicit drugs, internet safety, alcohol, tobacco and mischief. Interacting with hundreds if not thousands of kids is a huge achievement in my mind. It’s humbling to know that I was involved in the lives and development of so many children which likely had a positive far reaching effect. That’s an awesome reward.”
“Mental health and addictions were and are by far the greatest challenges facing our community,” Gioia said as he spoke of the challenges of policing.
He said that addressing the mental health and addiction problem in the community has grown considerably since he started as a police officer.
“I recall a time when hash and hash oil were the drugs of choice. The landscape of available and highly addictive potent drugs has evolved over the years to complicate matters. Hands down this was my, as well as this city's, greatest challenge. The problem far exceeds available resources.”
On the positive side, Gioia said “the greatest part of policing has been the people that I had the privilege of meeting and working with. Police, civilian employees and the public in general. I've made many good friends and acquaintances along the way that have helped the good outweigh the bad.”
Gioia retired from the Sault Police Service in Nov. 2020 and began his first ‘retirement job’ as a prescription delivery driver for I.D.A. customers.
“It wasn't so much about delivery but more about taking the time to build relationships. Not just drop and run, but investing in clients by showing an interest in them. I knew many by first name as well as their pets and it often turned out to be a visit rather than a delivery.”
He has also passionately devoted a great deal of time to his retirement hobby of metal detecting and searching for historical objects.
“I loved history at an early age and wanted to find anything vintage that could be a national treasure. What boy or girl doesn't love an adventurous treasure hunt? Raiders of the Lost Ark was the only movie that I had gone to see on more than one occasion at the movie theatre.”
“To me the greatest thing about metal detecting aside from the thrill of the hunt is being able to physically connect to the past, to discover and actually touch and hold pieces of history. In doing so, you can actually experience history rather than just read about it. It’s like a simple form of time travel.”
Among Gioia’s most noteworthy finds, both found locally, are a Copper Culture conical spearhead estimated to be 3,000 to 5,000 years old and a badge belonging to a retired British Army officer sent to police what was known as the Village of Sault Ste. Marie in the 1850s pre-Confederation era.
In the spirit of public service, Gioia donated both items to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum and has also donated finds to the St. Joseph Island Museum.
He has also taken three detectorist trips to England with a fourth planned for September and has hunted for historical treasures in upper New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Moving forward, Gioia says he is meeting his need to help others, meet new people and build relationships as a Sault Area Hospital porter.
Gioia has a philosophy as he continues to stay active.
“Anywhere that you go, try and leave a piece of yourself behind and always give more than you take.”