Blue Line

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New job, same issues for retired HRP officer


December 3, 2012
By Danette Dooley

824 words – MR

HEAD: New job, same issues for retired HRP officer

by Danette Dooley

Supt. Don Spicer retired just three months shy of his 35th year with Halifax Regional Police but won’t be heading to Florida anytime soon. Once the face of the force as media relations officer, Spicer’s new job is similar to his old job – helping society’s most vulnerable.

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“I’ve been struggling with this decision because I still love the job I am doing but an opportunity presented itself and it’s a position where I really feel I can make a difference in the community – so I figure it’s meant to be,” Spicer said.

His new job is executive director of Shelter Nova Scotia. The non-profit organization operates community residential facilities that help people transition from prison living to community living. It also operates homeless shelters and a supportive housing program for those moving from shelter living back into the community.

“In many ways a lot of the work I’ve been doing here (HRP) addressing the root causes of crime – homelessness and the factors in people’s lives that lead them to becoming homeless – are the same issues I’ll be working on in my new job, but at a different angle.”

A native of Halifax, Spicer applied to the police force when he was still in high school and began walking the beat in 1978 at age 19.

“I got into policing because I believe in community and I wanted to make a difference. I certainly didn’t get into it for the money. I was a stock clerk at the time at Simpson’s department store. I actually took a pay cut to become a police officer.”

In addition to the patrol division, Spicer worked in general investigation and the media relations office. He has been a member of the force’s police executive management team as superintendent since 2007, when he was appointed officer-in-charge of the administration division.

He was appointed Halifax Regional Municipality’s (HRM) first-ever public safety officer in 2009. The public safety office is comprised of the community relations/crime prevention division, community response team, mobile mental health unit, parks patrol, traffic accident investigation unit, school response officers, victim services and volunteer programs.

Spicer launched HRM’s first-ever public safety strategic plan in 2011, a collaborative effort of municipal and provincial government and community stakeholders.

During his policing career, he coordinated the force’s crisis negotiation team for 17 years and served as a volunteer referral agent with the Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

An instructor for suicide intervention training, Spicer made significant strides in community safety around root causes of crime, including affordable housing, mental health and race relations.

An advocate of lifelong learning, at age 50 Spicer became the first police officer in Atlantic Canada to graduate with a Bachelor degree in policing.

Spicer’s is a Member of the Order of Merit for the Police Forces (M.O.M.) and a recipient of the Police Exemplary Service Medal and Bars and the Nova Scotia Long Service Medal and Bar. He also received the Ambassador for Safety Award from Safe Communities Canada in 2011.

Spicer says he’s seen many changes in policing over the past three decades. Halifax has grown, he says, which means crime has also changed.

“Walking the beat 30 years ago in the downtown area, come 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning, if you saw someone else out, you knew they were up to no good and you went and investigated. Well now we have probably more people out downtown at 3:00 in the morning than we do at 3:00 in the afternoon.”

While Halifax is now a “24-hour city” Spicer says the amount of crime has decreased over the years but the level of violence associated with it is up. There are more people carrying guns and willing to use them, he adds.

“The way we are policing now, some people have dubbed it ‘Back to the future,’ because we are getting closer to the community and the success of policing really depends on being part of the community.”

Community involvement is how policing was done when Spicer began.

“You stopped into the barber shop or the coffee shop and you greeted people by name. It was like small town policing but in a bigger city.”

With the introduction of technology there’s been a shift away from such hands-on policing, Spicer says.

“We’ve come to realize that we’re not just law enforcement officers. We’re members of the community and we need to work with the community rather than for the community. You need to sit down with people and help them make their own decisions instead of making them for them.”

That’s exactly what Spicer will continue to do in his new job – “and I’ll definitely stay in touch with Halifax Regional (Police). The issues are all the same.”

Spicer urges anyone wishing to get or stay in touch with him to e-mail donspicer@shelternovascotia.com .

dooley@blueline.ca