"Making sure we have partners at the table:" Q&A with Edmonton's new police chief
Dale McFee is Edmonton’s new police chief, an “internationally recognized innovator and executive leader with a solid background in the fields of policing, community safety and public service.” He served as the chief of police in Prince Albert and as the deputy minister of Corrections and Policing in Saskatchewan. He digs deeper with Blue Line on how his past experiences will help shape the years ahead.
Q: Why did you choose law enforcement as a career path?
Growing up playing hockey on a team was always something that interested me. So was being able to do something different every day and help people. That led to me applying at the Prince Albert Police Service, and I was successful in my application. It’s been one of those careers that is really rewarding. Every day is different. Giving back to the community and working with the community are things that obviously interest me.
Q: How has policing changed since you first started as an officer?
It’s like anything else, it evolves. What you are dealing with on the streets has changed. If you think of just the impact technology has had on your every day communications... the same thing has evolved in criminal activity. If you think about things that cause a police response in relation to drugs, that has completely changed, too. But on the positive side, you are seeing a well-educated police service. You are seeing a lot of diversity in police services and you are seeing a lot of talented people to combat that. We are going to have to be able to operate in what I call a “smarter environment,” which is more than just a “quicker environment.”
Q: What are some achievements you’re particularly proud of?
There are lots. Even now coming into the Edmonton Police Service is pretty humbling — to be able to lead such a great organization. My fondest memories were my times as a police officer and chief at Prince Albert, and as the deputy minister of corrections and policing for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice, but what I remember most are the people. My greatest achievements are building relationships with people and building leadership in my teams. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of positive moments throughout my career. If you are in a situation and you surround yourself with good people and enable them to do the job, then everybody wins.
Q: How do you think your past jobs have prepared you for your new position?
I think of Prince Albert as a smaller place where you could be innovative and try some new things. Then I went on to government, dealing with corrections and policing. You can learn how to reverse engineer people that have gone to jail, and you can see those potential moments where you can intervene in their lives to help keep them out of jail. And then you come to the police service in Edmonton, which has the size and scale, and you can actually implement a lot of the things you learned along the way. You still have the ability to make decisions and act reasonably quickly, and you can impact the community a lot more than you can in government. I think it’s a natural evolution to use all those experiences.
Q: What did you learn from being on the other side of policing, in the government part of the job?
You understand your partner agencies differently, like health, social services and education. You understand how money flows. You understand how everyone feels that they are doing the best in their own environment. But what you really learn in government is that we have to do this collectively or we are not going to be successful. You can’t solve social issues with just one piece of the puzzle. The reality is that working across systems is the only way you can get value and impact.
Q: What do you think is needed in police leadership?
If you know what drives your work, then you need to know what work you can do to actually fix it, and when I mean fix it, I mean reduce it.
We’ve had this idea in policing that the solution is more supply. More supply looks like, “We need more officers. We have marijuana coming our way, so we need more officers to deal with that. We’ve got to do such-and-such so we need more officers.” And we do need those things; it’s important to have the tools to do the job. But equally important is: how do you reduce the demand for the services?
If the job of the police is not to get themselves out of work, then we are not focusing on the right things. We all know that policing will never be out of work. It’s a necessary thing to protect society, but at the same time there is a balance we need to bring to policing. Otherwise there are never going to be enough resources and you are never going to slow down your intake. We need our organizations to have the ability to think differently.
Q: What are some of the biggest issues you see for policing right now?
If you are talking about drivers of crime, then you are talking about meth, drugs, mental health and addictions, domestic violence and child trauma. I also think the other part to that is, how do you connect to those services and get behind them, so you collectively own the problem? The biggest thing is going to be getting everyone in the same direction.
It’s like the game of Risk; if you put an army on every country, then you are first out of the game. I think we have armies all over the place, and I would almost say that we don’t have a collective fighting response to deal with the multiple issues we are facing.
Q: What do you hope to achieve over the long-term?
I want to focus on reducing the demand for services. I want to make sure we are diligent in protecting those services that are critical to our citizens, like air patrol, investigative services — things that we are good at. And improving those things that reduce the demand. We have the people and we have money, and we just need to make sure that we are using both to make the community a safer place.
A part of that is making sure we have partners at the table. We need to do whatever is in our power to make sure they are there, but also make sure they are getting some wins out of it, too. We need to set joint goals and priorities. I think that anytime you are going to do something that will reduce crime and make communities safer, it needs to be led locally. Community safety is a lot bigger than just policing and enforcement.
Watch McFee’s swearing in ceremony at youtu.be/LkiJDy9IzjQ.
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