Former Niagara police chief dies

June 09, 2016
Jun 02 2016 During her time as chief, she was often a lightning rod for controversy. Wendy Southall was the first female police chief and first civilian to lead the Niagara Regional Police Service. Southall was chief for seven years before retiring in 2012. She died Wednesday after battling cancer. "There won't be another Wendy Southall for a long time," said Shirley Cordiner, a former chair of the police services board. "She was one of a kind.

Jun 02 2016

During her time as chief, she was often a lightning rod for controversy.

Wendy Southall was the first female police chief and first civilian to lead the Niagara Regional Police Service.

Southall was chief for seven years before retiring in 2012.

She died Wednesday after battling cancer.

"There won't be another Wendy Southall for a long time," said Shirley Cordiner, a former chair of the police services board. "She was one of a kind.

"Being the chief of police isn't an easy job. You can't please everyone, but she always did what was best for the service and the community of Niagara. She cared about what her officers thought and felt.

"For me, it's a great loss. She was a friend. I wish she had more time to enjoy her retirement."

Before becoming chief, Southall served as administrator of the police board as well as the service's chief administrative officer for finances and human resources.

She was 53 when she was sworn in as chief in late 2004.

Controversy ensued.

Former St. Catharines mayor Brian McMullan and Southall crossed swords over the decision to move the NRP's headquarters out of St. Catharines to Niagara Falls.

At the end of her tenure as chief, some thought comments she made at a Niagara Women in Business Awards banquet were directed at McMullan when she invited those who doubted her to "kiss my royal chief's ASS."

"We both had jobs to do," McMullan said. "As mayor of the city, I felt I had to defend the need for a strong police presence in the downtown core. In her capacity as chief, she had a different vision.

"I fought for what I thought was best for the city. She, in turn, fought for what she believed was in the best interest of the Niagara Regional Police Service. History put us on opposite sides of the issue. We both believed passionately in our positions, and you have to respect that."

Southall started as an officer for the Toronto Metropolitan Police Service in 1970 and spent eight years with the department.

She ran a small business with her husband before finding a job as a Niagara bylaw enforcement officer in 1982.

Seven years later, she was hired as administrator of the Niagara police board.

During Southall's time on the board, Grant Waddell was hired as chief. His administration was marked by conflict with the police union and the board itself.

During Waddell's final year as chief in 2000, the conflicts came to a head.

The board wanted to make Southall an acting deputy, but Waddell and then-deputy chief Gary Nicholls interceded to prevent her from gaining operational command authority.

The board made her the service's chief administrative officer responsible for finances and human resources.

She was appointed as chief at the end of 2004. Southall said she was keenly aware her unorthodox background made some uncomfortable.

Cliff Priest, president of the Niagara Region Police Association, which represents the NRP's rank and file officers, said he had philosophical differences with Southall about the service, however, he added her door was always open.

"She was always forthright and frank with us," Priest said. "She made changes to the service that were not always popular with our members, but I got along with her personally. We often had to agree to disagree."

Deputy Chief Joe Matthews said Southall was the right chief at the right time for the NRP.

"I was proud to serve as her deputy," he said. "Regarding legacy, her political astuteness and financial acumen brought everything together for our new headquarters. I feel bad she didn't live to see her vision completed, but I am happy to tell you that I took her through the building several months ago.

"She was also the driving force behind the increase of civilian professionals within the police service in areas of finance and human resources. Her vision was to bring in civilian expertise as policing became more complex.

"I think it is something that is benefiting the service, and will benefit the service for years to come."

Larry Iggulden, a local chartered accountant, was chairman of the police services board when Southall was appointed.

"There is no question that some people wanted to see her fail, but she turned out to be a great chief," he said. "I think she knew she had the board's support and believed she could weather any storm when people questioned her credentials to lead the service.

"When she became chief, a lot of organizations were starting to look away from having a chief with a deep operational background as the be all and end all. Managing the service needed someone who understood the business and financial end of things - and she had that.

"She was tough when she had to be, and compromising when she had to be. No matter what shots people took at her, she always had a smile on her face and was upbeat. I'm sure it got to her sometimes, but she never showed it.

"She proved the naysayers wrong."

Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeff McGuire said Southall was highly regarded by her peers in policing right across the province.

"Rising through the ranks of the civilian side of policing and then being selected as chief of police was an incredible accomplishment," he said.

Southall was predeceased by her husband Robert (Bob) Southall in 2011 and is survived by her children, Erin MacQueen and Brent Southall.

(St. Catharines Standard)

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