New Cop on Campus

photo of Robert Messacar
Tuesday, September 9, 2014 - 1:47pm
Blake Eligh

Photographer, Little League coach, retired cop and community advocate—the new manager of UTM’s campus police force is a soft-spoken guy with a wry sense of humour who is more interested in how he can help you than in talking about himself. Robert Messacar joined the UTM campus police team in July after six years with the Scarborough campus unit, taking over the position from outgoing manager Len Paris, who retired after 15 years with UTM.

Campus policing is the second act of Messacar’s law enforcement career. He retired as a Staff Sergeant after a 32-year career that included 11 years with Toronto Police Services and 21 years with the Peterborough Lakefield police force. During his years in uniform, Messacar was a front-line officer, working cases that typically included assaults and family violence. Upon retiring from the Peterborough force, Messacar joined U of T’s Scarborough campus in 2008. 

To Messacar, the community-focused work he did with the Peterborough force seemed a natural transition to the university environment. He says he’s drawn to community-focused policing, where the university’s special constables take a collaborative approach to problem solving and crime prevention. “We work closely with student groups to enhance community experience and create a safe environment for students,” he says.

In his new position, Messacar oversees a dozen special officers who respond to alarms and medical calls, direct traffic and patrol the campus as a visual deterrent to crime. But equally important, says Messacar, the officers are also involved in community outreach, participating in charity events like the CIBC Run for the Cure and information fairs.

Messacar takes his direction from students. “I want them to reach out to me, and tell me what they want to do,” he says. “I would love to have them lining up at my door.”

“I like dealing with groups where there have been barriers, such as the Positive Space Committee,” Messacar says. He also enjoys making positive contacts with students from regions where police are not as professional as they are in Canada.

The move to Mississauga is a kind of homecoming for Messacar. Born in Erindale, he spent his formative years in Mississauga. The father of four grown children (son Derek is a PhD candidate with U of T's economics department), says he’s glad to return to his hometown, and adds that he is currently scouting for new opportunities to volunteer. He has coached Little League baseball, and served as a board member with the Children’s Aid Society. 

Off the clock, Messacar is an avid photographer who can often be found peering through the viewfinder of his Nikon D80 and sharing his work through online photography forums. Ever the observer, Messacar likes to document what he sees on his travels. He says he likes the challenge of seeing things we often overlook in every day life. Ask him, and Messacar will share stunning shots from trips to Zambia, taken on visits to the family village where Messacar’s wife, encaustic painter Lesley Harries-Jones, has her roots. On these trips, Messacar has captured stunning portraits of rural children and a witch doctor in traditional costume, as well as wild hippos and elephants spotted on remote fishing excursions.

Messacar sees many similarities between the UTM and UTSC campuses, and is looking forward to getting to know the students and groups at UTM. “We’ve got a lot of bright, dedicated kids,” he says. “I love talking to the students. They’re energetic and dedicated. It energizes me to talk with them.”

See a selection of Robert Messacar's photos here >