Meet the Waterloo Alumnus Who is a Member of Toronto Police’s Collision Reconstruction Unit

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Toronto Police Detective Constable Janice Woronchak, a University of Waterloo graduate and one of only two female officers currently working in the prestigious Collision Reconstruction Unit. The mandate of this highly skilled unit states that they are responsible for providing a complete reconstruction investigation from the initial scene to the final report, promptly and thoroughly, through the theory and practical application of accepted collision reconstruction principles. This reconstruction takes place when collisions occur within the City of Toronto and result in: 

  • Death

  • In injuries to a person which may contribute to his/her subsequent death

  • Where the person’s age and/ or physical condition may contribute to his/her subsequent death 

  • In injuries to a person which may contribute to his/her subsequent death and involved service vehicles

  • From a police pursuit when hospitalization of any person(s) is required due to serious injury

  • In the Province of Ontario: Special Investigation Unit is investigating or monitoring

  • From unusual circumstances or high-profile nature

  • From a request from the Officer in Charge of Traffic Services and involves:

    • motor vehicles

    • streetcars

    • cyclists

    • trains or subways (excluding suicides)

    • wheeled devices or vehicles on a roadway

This mandate helps explain the vast amount of responsibility placed on the unit as they deal with many different types of incidents. The skillful nature of the Collision Reconstruction Unit requires police officers with high levels of competence and work ethic; as such, it is no surprise that Janice Woronchak attended The University of Waterloo! 

Janice graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Honours Kinesiology. During her time at UW, she participated in a number of on-campus activities and clubs. She acted as VP of the ski & snowboard club and was Co-chair of the 1995 Village Charity drive, raising $32,000 for the United Way charity “Citizens Concerned with Crimes Against Children”. After living in residence for her first two years in West 6 and North 2, she became a Don at Columbia Lake Village in the first year the role was offered. She participated in a pilot project where she oversaw an all-male residence; an endeavour that resulted in success and no significant issues despite the gender difference. 

Upon graduation, Janice spent 3 years working as an underwriter for an insurance company before making the decision to follow her lifelong dream of becoming a police officer.  In order to meet the physical requirements of all candidates, Janice had to undergo laser eye surgery to meet police standards. Janice remarked that policing was something she wanted to do since she was a child. Her decision to apply to the Toronto Police was based on their interest in candidates with university education. Other departments such as Peel Regional Police Service looked for graduates of the police foundations course, which Janice had not done. Janice believed that her university degree served as evidence of her ability to learn, and the Toronto Police agreed, hiring her in December of 2000.

Her career as a police officer began with basic training at 14 division in the heart of downtown Toronto and then a permanent placement in 32 division in Toronto’s North West. The divisions required different dynamics when it came to policing, requiring her to employ various investigative tactics to solve crimes. 

(A photo of Janice Woronchak)

While at 32 Division, officers were required to participate in a Generalist Constable training program that would place them in various units for 6 months. The units were; Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB), Street Crime, Community Response, or Traffic Services (TSV).  Participant officers would rank their choices from 1 to 4 and be placed. In 2004, Janice was placed in Traffic Services, which happened to be her 4th choice. While originally upset with the result, a veteran officer reminded her that things happen for a reason and to just go with it. Traffic services offered an “At Scene” collision investigation course that featured a large number of scientific principles and made her think “holy crap, maybe I can use my degree!”.  After her 6-month placement at TSV was up, she was transferred to the CIB. Janice found that the CIB was not for her, and she submitted her transfer request to Traffic Services in January of 2007. Now a believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, Janice embraced traffic policing, and this is where her career in collision reconstruction began.

Janice pointed out that while her degree is in kinesiology, two of her collision reconstruction colleagues are graduates from civil and mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto. These degrees assist on a foundational level for the job of reconstruction, but extensive training must nonetheless take place for all officers within the unit. The core training levels are as follows:

  • (Level I) Traffic Generalist Course 
  • (Level II) At scene Collision Investigation Course 
  • (Level III) Technical Collision Investigation Course 
  • (Level IV) Collision Reconstruction Investigation Course 

It takes approximately 4 years to complete these courses, which is followed by a 1-to-2-year apprenticeship with the Collision Reconstruction Unit before a candidate becomes a designated reconstructionist. The entire training process takes between 5 to 6 years. However, there are constant opportunities for learning; officers take additional courses and attend reconstruction seminars in order to stay current. Janice showed me her resume which listed the extensive amount of training courses she has participated in, some of which include:  

  • Streetcar Operator Orientation

  • Pedestrian / Bicycle Collision Reconstruction

  • Advanced Motorcycle Crash Analysis

  • Tire Forensics and Accident Reconstruction

  • Advanced Collision Reconstruction with CDR Applications

  • Drone Certification

  • IMS Map 360 Fundamentals + Pointcloud

In addition to learning, Janice now teaches/ co-facilitates a number of courses at the Toronto Police College−  the most recent course being Technical Collision Investigation in June of 2019. These courses allow the reconstruction team to investigate scenes with up to date knowledge and state of the art technology in order to determine the dynamics of a collision. It is imperative that their conclusions are precise and accurate because they will have to present their findings later on in court. 

Collision Reconstruction officers are considered expert witnesses and are able to give opinionated conclusions based on evidence, facts and scientific principles. Janice has qualified as an expert in 10 court cases since 2012, including the collision where a TTC bus went through a red light and struck and killed a pedestrian. Court documents cited Janice as an expert witness, specifically noting her Subway and Streetcar Transportation Training from the TTC in July of 2008. The case mentions that she based her conclusions on vehicle damage, witness statements, scene evidence, and autopsy results. Her findings played an integral role in explaining the events that occurred and assisted in the prosecution of the case. She is responsible for taking her conclusions and presenting them to the court in a way that allows those without a scientific background to understand. In the TTC case, the bus driver was subsequently found not guilty of the charge of Careless Driving on the basis of all the evidence and the credible account of the defendant. 

The high-profile nature of the aforementioned case displays the intensity and importance of collision reconstruction, and the role it has in shaping court proceedings. Due to this significant responsibility, I asked Janice how she maintained her focus on scenes of distressing collisions. She responded by saying, “I know the end result [of her investigation] is what I need to tell the family [of the deceased] or the person with life-changing injuries. You have to tell that story, you have to tell scientifically what things happened, what can change, and how we can effect change in roadway designs. I’m working for the Toronto Police, but also for the greater good. That’s why you do what you do. You can affect a lot of different lives by what you produce and you’re the only one who can do that. I take the onus on myself and work for the victims and their families”. The responsibility that Janice and her fellow officers have is immense, not only in the sense that it aids in criminal prosecutions, but that it also provides answers to the victims and their families. These results are often painful but allow families to understand and sometimes even forgive. Janice recalled a fatality case where the son of the deceased victim actually hugged the driver of the vehicle, forgave him, and thanked him for remaining on the scene so that his father did not have to die alone. It is often easy to forget that these victims are real people and that the police are not just closing off intersections to make you late for work. Janice emphasized this by pointing out that “people are in a rush, but at the end of the day they will get where they need to go, but this person can’t because they’re dead”. It is a harsh but true fact that many are oblivious to until it happens to them or someone they know. 

Despite the upsetting and disheartening elements of the job, Janice maintains an upbeat demeanour. She stressed the importance of having a positive attitude and go with the flow when change occurs.  In her career, many of the opportunities she has had were not necessarily ones she would have chosen for herself but have nonetheless led her to where she is today. 

As we wrapped up our conversation she quickly added that “my greatest mentor is my mom”, which was a brief anecdote that has resonated with me as I write this, weeks later. While I do not know Janice’s mother, nor the positive impact she has had on her life, I can imagine it is similar to the way I feel about my own mother, Anne MacDonald. My mother retired from the Toronto Police after 32 years of service, and it was her retirement dinner where I was introduced to Janice, as they were both stationed at Traffic Services. I felt an immeasurable sense of pride when I saw my mom being recognized and was inspired to try and achieve something similar in my own life. Having a mentor in your life is important, and sometimes you don’t have to look far to find one. 

Janice and my mother are only two examples of the many women within the Toronto Police Service that exemplify the dedication and integrity of its officers; values that are not always publicized, but still exist nonetheless.