New OPP commissioner accepts the tipstaff challenges

Deb Palmer
November 01, 2010
By Deb Palmer
“Treat everyone you meet with respect.” That was the advice to the fresh faces of the new recruits from a police officer who has provided security for royalty and world leaders and worked as a tactical officer, criminal investigator, polygraph examiner, served on the front line and in a number of specialized positions. He is Chris D. Lewis, the newly appointed Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). He is well known, well liked and well respected by colleagues – a cop’s cop, friendly and professional. If he’s met you, he likely remembers your name. His style and energy are fresh and invigorating. His values reflect all that the OPP represents.

“Treat everyone you meet with respect.” That was the advice to the fresh faces of the new recruits from a police officer who has provided security for royalty and world leaders and worked as a tactical officer, criminal investigator, polygraph examiner, served on the front line and in a number of specialized positions. He is Chris D. Lewis, the newly appointed Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

He is well known, well liked and well respected by colleagues – a cop’s cop, friendly and professional. If he’s met you, he likely remembers your name. His style and energy are fresh and invigorating. His values reflect all that the OPP represents.

Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Lewis is married to OPP Supt. Angie Howe. They have two grown daughters. He started out as a traffic constable in Kapuskasing 32 years ago and has built a solid reputation. His experience is extensive and impressive and his genuine passion for policing has been evident for years. Accepting the OPP’s tipstaff during the August 31 change of command ceremony, Lewis assumed responsibility for one of North America’s largest deployed police services. With close to 10,000 members, including uniform, civilian and auxiliary, the OPP serves thousands of square kilometres of land, waterways and trails. Quite a task, but one that Lewis has prepared for throughout his career. His vision, leadership and credibility have taken him to every area of Ontario, where he experienced front-line administration, investigative disciplines and tactical operations. Prior to serving for three years as provincial commander of field operations, Lewis was the interim provincial commander of strategic services, commanded several bureaus, including information technologies, investigation and investigation support and was eastern regional commander. He directed the criminal investigation branch, formed and commanded the emergency management bureau and worked with the RCMP to establish and lead the Cornwall regional task force on cross-border smuggling.

Lewis oversaw the OPP’s response to a variety of high-profile protests and is well respected for his contributions to policing within First Nations communities across Ontario. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.

His significant accomplishments have impacted policing at regional, provincial and international levels. His cross-command experience gives him the credibility and knowledge to lead a law enforcement agency that is respected by government, police agencies and citizens alike.

“Every officer is a leader in policing and all of our employees are leaders within our communities,” he told the graduating class.

He is committed to strong leadership from the top to the bottom. Lewis believes that the organization must develop, mentor and train supervisors and managers so that they are armed with the proper skills to inspire and lead their teams. Leadership development will be a significant focus as he himself prefers to lead by example and vows to always make decisions that are in the “best interests of the people we serve and the men and women of the OPP.”

With a proactive approach to change, Lewis remains committed to the OPP’s high profile provincial traffic safety program, but will seek the balance between traffic safety goals and all of the organization’s other work. Waterway and trail safety is another area where he believes the OPP can reduce injuries and death.

His priorities include those that reflect the OPP’s diverse range of services across the province, including criminal investigation, emergency response, crime prevention, community policing and other operational and support activities.

Lewis advocates teamwork and plans to engage the experience of four deputy commissioners to move the organization’s agenda forward. Executive leads will support his focus on several other priorities:

  • Managing protests – not just aboriginal, but the type that police agencies saw during the recent G8 and G20 Summits in Huntsville and Toronto.
  • Organizational readiness for climate change impacts on emergency planning and response.
  • Strong media relations. “We need to tell them everything we can without jeopardizing investigations,” Lewis says.

He believes that the threat of terrorism is real in Ontario and must be managed efficiently through strong intelligence and investigative support response.

Lewis wants the organization to more passionately invest in youth programs.

The OPP’s intelligence-led march against organized crime remains strong and he says it’s critical for police forces to move forward as one team to have the greatest impact on the fight against organized crime.

“Relationships with partner agencies are stronger than ever. I can’t remember a time in my career that our relationship with the RCMP was stronger; where our partnerships with municipal police services were more effective; or when we worked more cooperatively in crosscommand endeavors internally. We will never let our partners in law enforcement down.”

It is important for the OPP to continue to work with community leaders, government agencies, social service agencies and the private sector, says Lewis, adding that strong working relationships are paramount for effective public safety.

The often-unsung heroes will not be left off the agenda. Lewis praises the OPP’s dedicated civilian and auxiliary personnel, assuring them that all within the organization will be treated with the same level of appreciation and respect. “We are all critical members of the OPP team,” he notes.

The commissioner’s energy extends beyond policing. He is a tireless advocate for many charities and contributes selflessly as a volunteer and fund-raiser for the Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run, not-for-profit housing, Special Olympics and the United Way, to name but a few.

Recruits looked to Lewis with admiration and respect during his address. He knows the great task that lies ahead of them because he’s worked hard at it himself. Lewis reiterated the organization’s commitment to energized recruitment initiatives to ensure the workforce continues to reflect the diversity of the many areas the OPP serves.

The OPP is ‘an organization of great people doing great things,’ he says, calling the frontline officers doing 24/7 work its ‘face.’ Lewis asks for honesty and suggestions from members and commits in return to do all that he can to improve the people and agency.

The OPP has just entered its second century of policing. As the 14th officer to lead the force,

Lewis brings a reputation for successfully implementing and managing change initiatives. It faces bold opportunities and challenges as it sets its course for the second hundred years. It will be Lewis’ responsibility to ensure the best decisions about serving and protecting 13-million Ontarians are made – and for the right reasons.

As the honours and traditions continue within the OPP, a humble Lewis is anxious to build upon the foundation laid by his predecessors and to ensure his members are the besttrained, best-equipped and best-led.

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