Consult and listen: LRPS chief on First Nations policing
Dale Cox is chief of police of Lakeshore Regional Police Service (LRPS), headquartered on the Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta. He helped build this self-administered First Nations (FN) police agency, along with many other partners, after retiring from the RCMP. He shares how the 11-year-old service has evolved, as well as the importance of consultation and active listening when it comes to community relations.
Q: You joined the RCMP in 1979. Why did you want to get into law enforcement?
I got into policing as a result of getting to know some RCMP members in my home town (High Prairie, Alta). From there I went into the RCMP auxiliary policing program, which was just starting, and decided policing was the type of career I would like to follow.
Q: You have been with LRPS from its inception. What was this forging experience like?
This was my first experience in actually building a new police service. However, throughout my career I have been involved in various aspects of change and modernization in policing. I want to be very clear that this was not only my effort in getting to where we are today. We need to acknowledge the elected officials, both provincial and federal government partners, the police commission, the police officers that came to work for us, and, most importantly, the communities who have allowed us to be their police service.
Q: What are some of the main changes you’ve noticed?
There has been a steady reduction in crime rates. There is also a noticeable increase in confidence from the communities, which is translated into the development of partnerships in programs such as restorative justice, crime prevention, addiction awareness, etc.
One of our major accomplishments was the opening of our HQ building on the Driftpile Cree Nation in November 2015. With this modern facility, we have established a home for our service and shown communities we are here to stay.
We also saw great success with our project “Red Feather,” which discussed things like various forms of bullying, addictions, suicide and gangs with youth. This program brought together both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and took place on one of our First Nations. For some of these non-Indigenous children, this was the first time they had been on a First Nation. To further this experience, we also had some of the Elders give a brief description of the area’s history and explain a bit about local First Nations culture and tradition.
Q: LRPS polices in five First Nations. What else makes LRPS unique in your opinion?
FN policing is unique in its own way in that First Nations communities are self-governing and, in our case, we need to be cognizant we have five different chiefs and councils to work with and five different communities — each with their own challenges, resources and plans.
The building and maintaining of relationships is very important in First Nations communities and in order for our police service to remain effective, we must never lose sight of this. Relationships between First Nations communities and police have not always been favourable. I see the police as having an important role in resolving these concerns through open and frank dialogue, and gaining a better understanding of First Nations needs, culture and tradition.
Q: What kind of partnerships has LRPS nurtured?
I have found that the most important aspect of the service we provide is to consult and listen to the community members to see what it is they feel they need to be safe and healthy in their communities. After all, who would know better than the people who grew up and have lived in their communities all their life?
For too many years others have been coming to First Nations communities and telling them what they need instead of asking what they need. The last part of that is then asking how we can work together to achieve that goal. Through this process we have developed our crime prevention program and as well assisted in developing the Eagle Feather Court Oath program for First Nations people who desire to swear their oath on an eagle feather, as opposed to other forms of affirming. Our courthouses in Slave Lake and High Prairie have now adopted this. Others courts in Alberta are also now following this respectful manner.
Q: What are the latest happenings at LRPS?
We continue to lobby for additional resources in order to be able to provide 24/7 police service to our communities. Our restorative justice program has been updated and is moving forward in a manner that will assist in meeting the needs of our clients in addressing the over representation of First Nations people in the justice system. It does this by being able to address some matters at the community level.
Our next major project will be in moving forward with a community mobilization program in a HUB format. This will see persons in crises helped before the situation endangers the community and becomes a police matter.
Q: What is the most challenging part of the job?
Ensuring the communities and our officers are as safe as possible. Due to our limited resources, we are not able to provide 24/7 coverage, which puts a member on-call to respond after hours. With our large geographic area, this sometimes adds concerning delays in responding to high-risk calls. This also causes a delay in back-up resources. Being in a smaller police service in a remote location also has its challenges when it comes to being able to provide timely training opportunities for all our employees.
Q: In your opinion, what is needed now in FN policing?
FN policing has come a long way since I started in my position and I thank all of those who have gone before me in all their efforts. However, there are still challenges to be met.
In some areas of the country, when I first started, FN policing was viewed as substandard policing for a variety of reasons. In order to dispel that idea, we needed to challenge all First Nations police services to prove we could either meet or exceed the standards set by recognized police organizations.
Through the efforts of organizations like the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association as well as many self-administered police services, we have met that challenge. We have proof through independent audits, like the Alberta Policing Standards Reviews. These have shown all First Nation police services in Alberta to routinely meet or exceed all standards expected of all police services.
As a result of these efforts across Canada, I feel we have proven our ability and earned our right to be recognized as an essential service, and to move us from a grants program funded service to an “A” based funded police agency.
Q: What is your message to others in the Canadian policing community?
Self-administered FN policing has a lot to add to the overall picture of policing in Canada. To truly make policing inclusive we need these types of police services to meet a recognized and requested need in our First Nations communities. I look forward to being a part of this for the remainder of my time in policing.
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