Leading the way: Dwayne Lakusta’s approach to building a police service
September 25, 2023 By Brittani Schroeder
The thought of serving the community and making it a safer place was always appealing to Dwayne Lakusta, which is why he decided to become a police officer early on in his life. There were several reasons why he was drawn to the profession, which included the excitement it could bring and the variety of work that he would be exposed to. “I often tell people, when they’re considering a career in law enforcement, that it’s really many careers in one, just due to the number of assignments that you could take on. That’s what I found exhilarating.”
Just before Lakusta received his official offer from a police service, he was training to join the local fire department. When he was faced with the choice of being a police officer or a firefighter, there was no doubt in his mind—he wanted to be an officer. “The firefighters do an incredible job, but I wanted to be on the front lines with other cops.” Whether he ended up in the fire service or in law enforcement, it was clear that Lakusta had a passion for helping people.
Lakusta worked with Edmonton Police Service (EPS) for just over 26 years. Like any new member, he started his career on the streets. “That’s truly the foundation of policing. Throughout my career, through my many promotions and different specialty areas, I always found myself going back to the streets for at least short periods of time, because I didn’t want to lose touch with the frontline. I knew it was important for me to reconnect and take my lived experiences through other positions to those frontline members every so often.”
After EPS, Lakusta took a position with the Government of Alberta as the executive director of law enforcement. In this role, he oversaw the RCMP provincial police service agreement, the provincial peace officer program, Indigenous policing services, and played a key role with the review of the Police Amendment Act.
Chosen to lead
After his two-year tenure with the provincial government, Lakusta is on the move again, but this time he’s heading back to his roots in policing as the first Chief of Police for Alberta’s brand-new Grande Prairie Police Service (GPPS).
Grande Prairie’s city council voted in early 2023 to create a municipal police service, which would phase out the RCMP over the course of five years. Through his role in the government, Lakusta learned of the upcoming transition and knew he wanted to be part of it. He was also approached see if he would be interested in applying. After an extensive evaluation process, Lakusta was announced as the service’s leader in July. He officially started in the role on Aug. 28.
When asked why he believes he will be a good chief, Lakusta hesitated to answer. “I really think the service is a team effort. The group of people will matter most, not one individual.”
That being said, Lakusta brings significant experience to the role from his years with EPS. He credits the many positions he’s held and the great leaders who provided mentorship and supported his aspirations along the way. “I do think I’ve had a unique experience, because I’ve had the chance to work with all police agencies across the province. I understand law enforcement across Alberta and the nuanced issues that are impacting our communities.” Through his role within the government, Lakusta is also bringing operational and administrative experience to the work that goes on behind the scenes in a police department. “I think that gives me a firm foundation to step in as chief.”
Committing to the community
Lakusta has a lot of respect for the RCMP, its history and the many great people that work within the rank and file. When it comes to the upcoming transition, what he stresses is that it’s not about RCMP versus municipal policing—it all comes down to the wishes of the City of Grande Prairie. “Every community has their own unique challenges and variables that impact criminal behaviour within the criminal justice ecosystem. There is a great opportunity now for a new police service to identify what factors are impacting and driving crime.”
“We’re the first new municipal police service in Alberta since the 1950s, and once we have the right people in place, we’re going to be successful.”
Grande Prairie is said to be one of the fastest growing cities in Alberta. Over the next 25 years, there are going to be challenges that come along with its growing population, and a municipal approach will allow Lakusta and his team to pivot and adapt to those emerging trends.
“Certain crime patterns today may change tomorrow, and we need the ability to respond in real time. This municipal force will utilize new ideas, new technology as it comes out, and we will be able to make decisions at the local level—which eliminates a lot of the bureaucratic hurdles that may exist elsewhere. We will be highly effective and responsive to the needs of the city of Grande Prairie.”
A municipal force also provides opportunity for the community to have a more direct voice in shaping the policing priorities and strategies. The establishment of a municipal police service should allow for increased collaboration, coordination with local stakeholders, community organizations and residents. Lakusta wants to tailor the GPPS approach to the specific needs of the city, taking into account the community’s distinct characteristics, demographics and crime patterns. “I want to prioritize community engagement partnerships, develop problem-solving initiatives, and work with the industries here because there are a number of big projects taking place within the city and surrounding areas. We need to make sure that we’re addressing everyone’s needs so we can continue to attract economic investments within the city. I also think we’ll be able to allocate resources more effectively at a local level by aligning them with local priorities, ensuring that we’re equipped to address those new challenges or trends.”
Lakusta is excited to be out on the streets with the community once again. “As chief, I’m going to be out there getting to know the residents of Grande Prairie. A lot of these people have never been exposed to policing outside the RCMP, and there may be some apprehension. They may be wondering why we’re headed to a municipal police service, and I think it’s important for me to earn and build their trust and show them that it isn’t about the colour of the stripe, it’s about what’s right for the community. I also want them to know that I bring significant experience to the table, all to make Grande Prairie a better, safer place.”
Hiring a new team
As the new police service grows, Lakusta knows that it’s going to be of the utmost importance to fully develop the senior leadership team. Once he has those core members in place, they’ll be able to build the team downwards from there.
“I want to bring in leaders with significant experience in policing, people with respected opinions and strong community values. I need them to respect transparency and accountability. There is a high expectation for the police, and quite frankly, there should be.” Lakusta wants to work with people who are passionate about community safety, and are responsive to emerging trends. He’s going to be looking for those who are progressive leaders, with highly valued reputations within their current organizations.
He also knows that the GPPS needs to be representative of the demographics of the city. “Diversity is a key factor here. I want there to be diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, to make sure there is as much lived experience being represented here in the department.”
When asked how he likes to lead, Lakusta shared that he likes to empower people to make their own decisions. “Micromanaging is not my style. When people have the ability and experience to make decisions, it’s either going to go right, or things will go sideways. I’ll be there to support them through it all. This is how we develop future leaders; they need to challenge themselves. I think overall this creates a healthier workplace.”
At the time of this interview, Lakusta already had a few people in mind that he wanted to approach to be on his senior leadership team. “People have also approached me, because they want to be part of what we’re doing here. We’re the first new municipal police service in Alberta since the 1950s, and once we have the right people in place, we’re going to be successful.”
The Grande Prairie Police Commission’s task was to find the service’s first chief, and now that he’s in place, it’s up to Lakusta to take it from here and hire the rest of the members. “I like to move quickly – I don’t like to belabour things.” So it’s easy to see why, when his first official day as chief came around, he hit the ground running.
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