Delivering tough messages with kindness
By Landen Kruger
Blue Line is proud to present the 2019 Lifetime in Law Enforcement Achievement Award to Corrie Zafirides, who has worked as a probation and parole officer for the past 24 years and an intensive supervision officer for the past 13 in Hamilton and Brantford, Ont.
By Landen Kruger
This award, now in its second year, is presented to an individual who has shown exceptional leadership, dedication and passion towards their work in law enforcement. It is open to any law enforcement officer outside of a traditional policing agency.
Zafirides’ position as an intensive supervision officer involves working with high-risk offenders and people who have been recently released from prison. Often these individuals have a history of violent crime, drug or alcohol addiction, or mental health disorders, but Zafarides says she always sees the possibility for giving people a second chance.
“We all know people — maybe in our own families even — who resemble the person I am sitting across the desk from. If that were my son or daughter sitting with a probation officer, I would expect them to be treated like a human being,” Zafridies says. “The majority of people in our office are not truly bad people; they’ve made bad decisions.”
Zafirides’ positive attitude and passion for her work has made her a respected partner in the Canadian law enforcement community.
“She has demonstrated the unique ability to ground her decisions in both the immediate details and also see a broader picture with potential impacts, risks and outcomes,” says Barb Forbes, regional director of Probation and Parole Services in the Western Region. “Ms. Zafirides is respected for her wisdom, her frankness and her ability to deliver tough messages with kindness and consideration.”
Zafirides works hard to overcome the challenges associated with working with high-risk offenders, as well as the various social and economic problems they face.
“There’s not a lot of help for mental health or addictions — there’s not an abundance of housing opportunities, and it’s difficult to help them manage this,” she says.
Instead, she focuses on creating a positive relationship between herself and the offenders, as well as involving the community’s mental health and addiction organizations to help fill the gaps in these areas.
“I can’t help these people by myself. I have to really establish connections with people and that’s what I love: the networking,” Zafirides says. “Making those connections so you always have somebody to pick up the phone and help you — that is key.”
What makes Zafirides such a unique and successful person in her field is how she handles her clients and measures their success. She seeks to establish a personal relationship with the offenders she works with and set small goals that will help them improve their lives.
It does not matter whether it is staying sober for 24 hours or completely turning their lives around, Zafirides has always strived to help these people make meaningful, positive changes.
“If I can just get them to have some insight, then I feel like that’s a success. They may not be the most outstanding citizens going forward, but I would just like them to look at themselves and ask, Why am I doing this and what can I change?”
One of the greatest personal achievements she has had in her job is remaining in contact with a number of former offenders who want to tell her about their successes.
“I have a handful of people who are not on probation anymore. They have no requirement to come in and see me or call me, yet they continue to do so regularly because they want to show me how well they’re doing,” she says. “They did the work. It’s their lives, but the fact that they’re still calling — that’s awesome.”
Throughout her career Zafirides has become very knowledgeable about the Canadian law enforcement system and has a lot of ideas on what should be improved or changed to make the probation system more effective.
She says more information sharing is needed between departments and organizations to help properly manage people on probation and high-risk offenders.
The requirements to withhold confidential information (such as mental health or addiction records) in these offenders’ portfolios makes it very difficult to properly treat these issues when the offenders move across provinces or are transferred to different facilities.
“I would love to see more resources for mentally ill people,” Zafirides says. “I find the frontline police deal with more social disorder calls; they’re dealing with addiction and mental health calls instead of actual criminal behaviour, and that trickles down to us.”
Developing a good relationship and working alongside the Ontario Provincial Police and local police agencies has been incredibly important to Zafirides when she works with high-risk offenders.
“I’ve worked with a lot of amazing officers at all levels — inspectors down to frontline constables. I’ve worked hard to establish those contacts because it only enhances our jobs on both sides,” Zafirides says. “I think they realize how much information we have and how we can help them and vice-versa.”
One of the most challenging days of Zafirides career was June 3, 2011. There was a serious situation involving a high-risk offender from B.C. who had a history of violence and was considered a threat to the public. He had arranged to meet a woman from Ontario, but once this woman realized what kind of person she was dealing with, she feared for her own safety.
Zafirides took this case upon herself and co-ordinated with all levels of government in Canada, as well as various police organizations, to help manage this high-risk offender. She was heavily praised for her handling of this situation.
“Corrie worked relentlessly and, after communicating with other police detachments and some of my counterparts across the country regarding this file, all had nothing but exemplary things to say about her. Corrie has been incredible to work with,” wrote Troy Kimber, special advisor to the assistant deputy attorney general of the Criminal Justice Branch of B.C., in a letter shortly after the 2011 situation.
Zafirides says this incident made her more confident in herself and her ability to handle these extreme situations with high-risk offenders.
“She possesses the skills to work with the most challenging, highest risk and complex cases, and has demonstrated excellence in the role of intensive supervision officer for the past 10 years,” Forbes continues. “Ms. Zafirides is humble and modest but extremely proud of her profession and conducts herself consistently with the goal of excellent service, regardless of the situation.”
Landen Kruger is a graduate student in contemporary journalism at Centennial College’s Story Arts centre. He has a degree in political science from Queen’s University.