On Friday, June 30 Brian Chrupalo will put down his badge for the stripes to begin officiating another Canadian Football League season. Chrupalo is the league’s first-ever Metis official and has spent much of his life enforcing the rules.
Chrupalo has been a referee in the CFL for the past 13 seasons. He’s also been a Winnipeg police officer in the neighbourhood he grew up in for the past 24 years.
“There are rules for both. That’s the important part for me. And there are consequences on the streets and on the field,” Chrupalo said. “I watch them and monitor situations and if there’s someone operating outside of those rules I have to call a foul.”
Chrupalo sees his policing work on the streets as bridging the gap between police and people. Now he’s bridging the gap between the CFL and NFL after it was recently announced he will be part of the NFL exchange program.
“It’s quite an honour to be selected by the CFL and to go and represent the rest of the officials is quite an accomplishment I think,” he said.
This is just the second year for the program, which has six CFL officials heading south to officiate an NFL pre-season game in August. Chrupalo just got back from a training camp in Green Bay.
Chrupalo has officiated three Grey Cup championships including last year’s game in Toronto.
Growing up in north Winnipeg
Chrupalo said there’s a sign at the beginning of the neighbourhood that welcomes people travelling across a bridge from downtown into north Winnipeg.
“It’s been there for ever and it’s a bit of a welcome to the north end,” he said.
Chrupalo has seen that sign since he was kid. It’s where he grew up.
“I grew up in Manitoba housing. There are some socio-economic problems that come up in that area,” Chrupalo said.
Despite some of the challenges facing the community, there’s no other place Chrupalo would have wanted to have grown up and now police, pointing directly to its diverse range of people to being as its strength.
“You can live on the same street with somebody who owns several businesses and very successful or you can have someone who lives in Manitoba housing. There’s a lot variety and a lot of great people,” he said.
Chrupalo credits two factors that have contributed to success throughout his childhood: His mom, and sports.
“I was very fortunate to have my mom. She was a stay at home mom and my dad worked all the time. It was busy. I was an active kid.”
A recognizable face
Chrupalo has spent his entire life in north Winnipeg and so when it comes to policing the streets, he comes across many familiar faces.
“I grew up in that area and come into contact with people I grew up with, people that I have coached and people that I’ve refereed,” he said.
“They’ll come up and talk to me because they knew me before I was police officer.”
Those relationships are important to Chrupalo because he understands that in some cases the perception people have of police can be a negative one and he wants to change that.
“They’ll see me in a police car and come up to me and talk about things. Or people will be walking down the street and recognize me from football and it’s a good opportunity to not just have a police contact but have somebody talk to,” Chrupalo said.
He also uses his position as police officer to give back, making sure less fortunate families have presents at Christmas, candy at Halloween, or in one particular case raise funds to purchase a bike for an 11-year-old boy who was robbed.
Chrupalo is relentless in his investing back into community.
“I donate as much as I can to give back to improve people’s day.”
Finding the balance
Chrupalo says at times it can be difficult being an officer the neighbourhood he knows so well. But despite having grown up and having spent a lot of time with many of the people he’ll come into contact with, he’s been able to maintain healthy boundaries around those relationships.
“As a police officer there are rules and regulations but at the same time you can have a personality and do your job,” said Chrupalo.
Whether on the streets or on the football field, Chrupalo wants to be someone who is considered fair.
“I have a little bit of discretion, for example, when I see someone drinking on the street I ask them to pour it out. If I can’t drink on the street, you can’t drink on the street. And I tell them to please pour out their alcohol, that I’m going to leave and come back and if they’re still there I’ll give them a ticket.”
Chrupalo said it comes down to presenting people with choices as opposed to being the law.
“I don’t think people appreciate that as much. I think it’s important that people have the ability to talk about things.”
The power of sport and identity
Chrupalo said he didn’t know it at the time, but when he looks back on his childhood he realizes it was sport that kept him focused on achieving goals.
“It kept me busy and it kept me out of trouble.”
Chrupalo played rugby and football throughout high school and when he’s policing the streets he tries to be that positive role model for young kids, the same way people were for him.
“Maybe I took it for granted. People ask me about role models and teachers and coaches were mine. They gave their time and gave back to the community. They kept kids from getting into trouble.”
He’s also extremely proud of his Metis heritage.
“I’ve always had opportunities so I don’t consider being a Metis man a challenge, in fact the service embraces it.”