"He's like a Gretzky or Sidney Crosby of policing," states one of Cst. Ryan Wood's fellow officers. "He helps set up the plays and makes everyone around him look good."
Wood is the real deal, a rare breed of police officer who can wear many hats at once and has a selfless sense of serving his community. Internal and community leadership is the hallmark of his policing career.
Wood joined Halifax Regional Police (HRP) 11 years ago after working several years as a provincial corrections officer. He has spent most of his career in the patrol division as a community response officer, becoming a well known face and name in North End Dartmouth – so well known and liked that the community he polices calls him "their Randy."
North End Dartmouth is often described as socially and economically stressed and transient, with more than its fair share of crime. Working in close contact with community members, Wood is able to strike a unique balance between enforcement and compassion, something that tends to elude many officers as they move through their career.
Wood's dedication to and ownership of his community shows in his constant involvement with the Dartmouth Girls & Boys Club, Alice Housing and Neighbourhood Watch. He is also a contributing member to the success of United Way's Action for Neighbourhood Change initiative, volunteers every week at local food banks and is a driving force behind charitable efforts. His compassion to help others, often on his own time and at his own expense, is remarkable.
As the face of HRP for many people in his community, Wood's cell phone is constantly ringing. He is well respected any many people trust him to help them out. That includes his fellow officers, who often turn to Wood for advice and assistance on major files and projects, thanks to his on the ground knowledge of area residents.
Wood has been credited on a number of occasions for helping to solve significant crimes. Investigations that otherwise would never have even been reported were successfully concluded due to his efforts, through the trust he has built with neighbourhoods.
It is not uncommon for him to transport residents to appointments when they have no other way of getting there, or to see children run up to him at community events, obviously very happy to see "Cst Randy."
Hearing that Wood had become involved in a significant disturbance in a Halifax suburb policed by the RCMP, a senior officer wondered aloud how that happened. "Randy ends up in the middle of everything," a patrol officer explained.
Many HRP officers echo the sentiment that no one is more deserving than Wood of a police leadership award.
"On December 16, 2011 I assisted patrol at the scene of a murder, recalls fellow community response officer Cst. Danny Berrigan, "and I thought it was strange that Randy wasn't there. I discovered that Randy was taking some much deserved time off to clean up his home for his wife, who was arriving home that evening from living overseas and whom he had not seen in months.
"Once I canvassed the neighbourhood, I called Randy since I knew he would want to know what was going on in his community.
"When I told him what had happened, he knew the victim and that she had suffered a break and enter in 2009. He knew that a suspect was charged in that case and he was immediately certain that the same person was likely responsible for killing the victim."
Berrigan was not surprised that Wood knew of the incident and all the parties involved, but what really impressed him was how quickly he could name a suspect. To no one's surprise, he turned out to be correct.
"He really knows his neighbourhood and not just on paper," said Berrigan.
S/Sgt. Richard Lane, officer-in-charge of the Integrated Halifax Regional Police/RCMP Major Crime Unit, also worked on the murder case.
"Randy rode with me, chasing the suspect. He knew everyone in the North End of Dartmouth and it was comforting having him with me.
"Randy's relationship with the residents allows him to reassure them in the aftermath of the murder but at the same time they feel comfortable enough to tell him things that they would not normally share with the police. Quite often his information points us in the right direction and, at times, is crucial in solving these files."
Wood is usually the first person called when a serious incident happens in Dartmouth, Lane said, noting major crime and other specialized unit investigators rely on his expertise weekly and sometimes even daily.
Wood has played a significant role in helping to solve five homicides and is willing to drop everything to assist on these files. His dedication has not gone unnoticed. He works nights, weekends, whatever it takes to assist in these investigations, without additional compensation. He even takes a radio home with him so he will never miss an important call or chance to positively impact the community.
Policing is not a job for Wood, it is a way of life, senior staff note. He is not motivated by extrinsic rewards or pats on the back. In fact, he shies away from that, thinking he is not deserving. The best reward Wood can get is a heartfelt thank you from the community or a hug from a resident, which drives him to be better and do more. It is the intrinsic satisfaction he gets from doing the right thing.
It's not just HRP officers and staff who sing Wood's praises. City councillors, neighbourhood watch participants, United Way leaders and community members alike have all approached police brass and playfully threatened them to not even think about removing "their Randy" from North End Dartmouth. He is considered "their" police officer. No one else has taken the responsibility of the community's safety as personally.
At Christmas, Wood often contacts families in need to see what their children need – clothes, boots, food and basic necessities. He works tirelessly to ensure those items are obtained through volunteer resources and delivered to these families.
Wood brings a passionate and compassionate perspective to policing, which can be seen by others, fellow officers say. Recognizing this, they point to Wood as an ideal role model for young police officers. In East Division, Wood is sought after by other members for advice, his knowledge of criminals and for help with major files.
Above all, Wood's strong connection, commitment and knowledge of his community has led to hundreds of arrests over the years. While the role of patrol is mostly responsive, his approach to relationship building allows for an unconventional approach to solving crime.
"I can't count the number of people from the North End whom I talk to who not only know Randy, but who speak glowingly of him," says fellow community response officer Cst. Geoff Stark.
"Randy takes ownership of what happens in the North End and takes it personally when issues arise. He knows all of the players and he shares that information with patrol officers and investigators alike. Randy can often be heard helping patrol members with calls for service, or simply answering questions for them.
"Randy is on-call without being officially on-call. He takes his portable home and does not turn his cell phone off. He is always available for colleagues and for the residents of the North End. When someone falls between the cracks in the system, Randy will go to bat for them and will resolve their problem. He does not accept that nothing can be done.
"I can recall an incident, near the end of shift, where a wheelchair bound man had just been evicted because he was infested with bed bugs. Randy scrambled, using whatever resources where available and he found accommodations for the man.
"Randy's knowledge and skills were used by the major crime unit in the Campbell homicide investigation. Randy was front and centre for the 12th annual march against violence in the north end, in memory of a fine young man who was gunned down and whose murder remains unsolved. He is a fixture at the Hester Street food bank.
He co-ordinates Operation Breach for East Division, a program which ensures prolific offenders are abiding by court-imposed conditions. He works extensively with the property management companies in the North End, helping to greatly improve the standard of living for many residents."
Humility is another hallmark of Wood's policing. He tells people he has so much more to learn, not realizing the incredible impact he has as a role model and the respect he has earned for his work ethic and dedication.
Wood is worth his weight in gold, fellow officers agree. He is a go-to person for anyone needing information and, if he doesn't have it, he won't rest until he gets it. His value to HRP and the overall policing community has often been acknowledged by senior staff, business leaders and community members.
Wood has set a standard of excellence in performance that is second to none and rarely matched.
Wood's leadership garnered him a chief's commendation in 2007, the Halifax Regional Municipality Director's Award for Promotion of Safe Communities in 2008 and a Leadership in Crime Prevention Award from the provincial Minister of Justice Minister in 2009. He was also named the HRP Police Officer of the Year in 2011.