A gun, a few knives and some gang paraphernalia are clearly laid out on display at the front of an Edmonton college classroom. A group of about 20 young students stare in amazement at the various weapons, which are real.
“These weapons were confiscated from actual gang unit drug busts,” warns Cst. Clarke Clarke of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Gang Unit. “Please do not touch them.” The students of the Correctional Services Program ‘Cultural Influences’ comply without protest, retreating to their seats and staring from a distance, peeking over each other’s heads to sneak a few more glimpses. Eventually, they shift their attention to the man sitting in front of them.
“I’m here to talk to you today about gangs, gang-related crime and drug trafficking. There are four myths about gangs: protection, belonging, wealth and respect.... Gangs are a huge, serious problem, but still exist because of these myths.”
Fighting for justice has been Clarke’s passion since first joining the police force in 1998. He was determined to work his way up in the ranks and has seen more than his fair share of criminal activity. “The greatest reward is seeing that victims of crime receive justice,” he stresses. “Part of that reward is seeing that criminals are put behind bars.”
Clarke’s desire to work in law enforcement did not waiver after becoming a quadriplegic at the C5/6 level in a 2001 diving accident. If anything, it made him more determined and creative in finding ways to fight crime. Although the injury had a major impact on his life plans, he never lost control of his life. His hope and desire to stick with the EPS was undiminished.
Today, Clarke has more direction than ever and is doing unprecedented things for his force that he never thought he’d be able to do. Being one of the few quadriplegic police officers in North America has pushed him to take his work even more seriously.
Clarke’s work hasn’t always been gang related. He was working on the break and enter team at the time of his accident and gradually returned to work over two years ago, eventually realizing his goal of resuming his career full time. “I knew I always wanted to return to work, it was just a matter of when I was healthy enough to do it.”
Fighting his way back was no easy task and began with regaining his health, which proved to be harder than anticipated. Clarke achieved it through plenty of exercise, particularly adapted physical activity, rather than rehabilitation per se. He became a regular at the University of Alberta’s Steadward Centre, and still is today. He is currently pursuing the opportunity to become a part of FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) assisted rowing.
“I strongly believe that one day with the hope of research, I will be up walking and again have a more hands-on approach directly arresting criminals and putting them behind bars.”
Outside of regaining his physical fitness, Clarke worked on establishing a stable life at home. He and common-law wife Sandy are proud parents to her sons Tanner, 11, and Tyler, 14. “Returning would not have been successful without a stable and reliable environment at home. My family has been invaluable to my return to work; I couldn’t have done it without them.”
His fellow officers also greatly aided him in his return to the EPS. “My brothers from the police service offered me their undying support. People I had worked with and even people I had never met before helped me realize that I still had a place with the Edmonton Police Service. They were willing to accept me no matter what, found a place for me and stood by me.”
Today, Clarke’s presence is stronger than ever. With the help of voice activated software, a modified workspace and various other computer supports, Clarke is at the front and centre of the EPS Gang Unit, gathering intelligence and compiling gang-related information for the rest of the force. His investigations range from assault to homicide, and he works with all three unit squads and liaises with officers from the EPS and RCMP.
His job is to make sure officers in the field have access to gang-related information when needed – and they often require it immediately – with the goal of disrupting gang activity, both within Edmonton and in surrounding areas. Not surprisingly, Clarke’s days are never dull, or short, since gang-related violence and drug trafficking is always high security and never at a standstill.
Clarke’s work also expands beyond the walls of the police station, taking him to places like Grant MacEwan College.
One of his most influential roles as an officer today is as a community liaison. He regularly lectures to different community groups, students and other police agencies about gang activities and drug trafficking.
Despite not having any previous public speaking experience, his passion and commitment to the job has made public speaking seem incredibly natural and easier than he expected. He certainly didn’t have any trouble getting the attention of the young MacEwan students, who hung on his every word.
Off the job, Clarke is a strong advocate for people with disabilities. He has honed his public speaking skills by speaking about working with a disability to patients and other groups. Clarke is a living example that having a disability does not stop life and that it’s still possible to do everything you want to do.
“Don’t let your disability get you down. Don’t let it limit your capabilities. People should see that even with a disability, everyone can do what they want.”
One of Clarke’s biggest concerns is that people with disabilities don’t recognize what they are actually capable of doing. He encourages people to look into support programs such as Alberta’s Disability Related Employment Supports (DRES) to learn more about available opportunities.
Clarke’s future aspirations and long term plans are not unlike any other EPS constable: to get promoted to sergeant or detective and live a long, happy, successful life.
“I want to always be productive and continue to contribute to society. I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Clarke’s tremendous impact on the community is a testament to his resolve to never stop contributing, his undying committment and continued presence on the force. It’s clear that he will never let any of his fellow officers or citizens of Edmonton down.