RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bernadine Chapman became the new Commanding Officer for RCMP, National Division in November 2019. Previously the RCMP district officer for Southern Alberta, Chapman was in charge of 37 detachments there and has spent 31 years overall with the federal police service. Originally from Prince Edward Island, she has served in general duty policing, anti-corruption drugs and organized crime, and employee management relations across the country. She opens up about some of her career highlights below as well as her thoughts on employee wellness.
Q: Why did you decide on a career in law enforcement?
This may sound cliché but for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to help people and work with communities by bringing positive change. I just didn’t know at the time that this would lead me to become a police officer since I had initially considered pursuing a law degree… A friend told me about the RCMP, and that I would probably love working there. That’s when I started looking into it and, well, the rest is history!
Q: What has been one of the most memorable moments of your career?
It was probably that fateful night in 2004 where, at the time, I was stationed in New Brunswick. A suicidal man had climbed on top of a bridge and myself and a firefighter were dispatched to the scene. I was familiar with the individual as he suffered from mental health issues, which often required police intervention. I remember vividly it being a very tall bridge and we had to climb it to get closer to him. I was a constable back then and it was also an intensely busy night. In the end, we were able to bring him down to safety. It was an unnerving event but this type of incident reminded me why I signed up to be a police officer in the first place.
(Editor’s note: as a result of this courageous intervention, she received numerous awards, including RCMP Commander’s commendations, a Valour Award from the Atlantic Women in Policing as well as a Valour Award from the International Association of Women in Policing.)
Q: What has been a particular challenging part of your career?
Policing is certainly one of those professions that requires a great deal of emotional investment within oneself, with the people you work with and with the public we serve. Over the years this becomes more and more challenging to manage. I have seen many succumb to these pressures over the years, which has been very difficult. And I think the most challenging thing for me is that self-care check, to take off the mask so to speak. I would say I have only just started to make changes over the past several years to recognize when I need to step back and take a breath. I also navigate this by ensuring that the culture/environment around me is one that fosters employee well-being. This is extremely important for me and if I can foster open communication on employee wellness, hopefully it will empower people to ensure they seek self-care.
Q: How have your experiences in your postings in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta prepared you for this role?
I think my professional experiences helped me to build character. I have acquired a diverse background as I’ve worked in many parts of the country and I think that these experiences have given me a better appreciation and understanding of certain things. I am better equipped now to deal with issues when I am faced with them and to make tough decisions when I need to. These have given me a greater level of comfort to have innovative approaches and go beyond beaten paths — or rather to think more “outside the box.”
Q: What are some of your plans for National Division?
I want to build a robust employee wellness foundation because we need to take better care of our own. I also want our members to have better access to training by having our own training facilities. I want to ensure that we are working within our mandate in the national capital region, modernizing our service delivery and that we continue building solid relationships with our internal and external partners. It’s probably a lot to take on but hopefully this will be my legacy to National Division employees.
Q: What are your specific hopes for the RCMP of the future?
These are exciting times as an RCMP union is currently in the works. It will help to have co-ordinated efforts at making the RCMP better, with appropriate resource levels and better care for our employees. In Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s two-year leadership, she hasn’t taken her foot off the pedal when it comes to our employees’ wellness. I think she has an inclusive approach and is people-oriented, which is contributing to steer the RCMP’s culture into the future.
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