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Q&A with Chief Al Frederick, Windsor Police Service

It all started with Samuel Port, William Brown, Charles Bussette and Henry Goodenough back in 1867. Since then the Windsor Police Service has aged right alongside Canada. Blue Line checks in with Chief Al Frederick for more on the force’s 150th celebrations, his 33 years in policing, advice for the next generation and his views on the legalization of marijuana.

September 5, 2017  By Renée Francoeur

Al Frederick.

Q: As chief, what is your favourite part of the job?
Everyday I meet people in the community, and even in speaking with my own officers — someone always has a great new story and something uplifting to share. When you work together with one common goal — serving the community and doing whatever it takes to keep us all safe — that’s the best part of the job.

Q: What is the toughest part of the job?
Our police officers have extraordinary capacity and the community expects so much from them. At times, though, we can’t be everything to everyone. More and more is being put on us. For example, the opioid crisis that we’re in; they want police officers to carry naloxone. I certainly support it, as it’s beneficiary to the community and officers if they come into contact with it. But again, it’s another burden on our officers. These cases are substance abuse — not criminal investigations and we’re on the frontlines of that, too. So managing expectations of the community is the biggest challenge.

Q: It was hinted you would be retiring this year. Tell us more about how the succession planning is going.
I’ve been here for five years, which goes by in a blink of the eye. After a five-year term, it’s the right time to step aside because the organization gets used to you and there’s always room for a new approach and new perspectives and that starts at the top. The best thing for me to do for the organization is to move on sometime in the near future. I enjoy every day still, same as five years ago, but we have great people here ready to step in.

Q: What wisdom can you impart regarding what it takes to be a successful police leader in today’s society?
You have to commit to a couple things. One is: we can never say, “There is nothing we can do for you.” I tell this to civilians and frontline officers. Whatever it is, we need to do something.  

Another thing is, as chief of police, you have to commit to lifelong learning and developing great people around you. That’s the only way you’ll be effective. You don’t know everything. There was no Internet or email or cell phones when I started 33 years ago and all the social media platforms we use now didn’t even exist 10 years ago. We have little idea what’s truly in store for the next 10 years. That’s why learning is so important.

Also, the focus can never waiver from the community. The more we reach out, the more they respond. I’ve seen that and I’m very proud of that.

Q: When you look back at your career in policing, what are you most proud of?
As a team, we have refocused our initiatives on the community and positioned the community as a real, legitimate partner. Our service today recognizes we’re good at what we do, but there’s a force multiplier when we engage the community. We’ve reaped huge benefits of that. Recently, it was found we had the lowest sexual assault unfounded rate in the country. Stats Canada also just released reported hate crime stats and we were the lowest in the country again.

Q: With the WPS celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, what does that mean to you?
“Past, Present and Future” was the theme for our anniversary and we put together 150 years of our artifacts — like a museum.  I was a breathlalyzer technician when I first came on and the machine that I used 30 years ago was called the Borkenstein and that’s in the museum. That’s interesting to see.  It gives you some perspective on how long you’ve been here.

We’re the busiest international border crossing in the world — Detroit to Windsor — and our policing has been focused around the border and the challenges that creates for us, whether it’s the movement of goods and services or firearms and drugs. In Ontario the legal age to drink is 19 but it’s 21 in the U.S. So on weekends it’s literally a madhouse in our downtown core with American kids. The border has been the centre of our growth and that has not changed over 150 years. It’s unique; not many other cities have this relationship and responsibility.

Q: You have voiced concerns over the legalization of marijuana. What most troubles you about the forthcoming legislation and how do you see WPS adapting to it?
I have lots of reservations about it and expressed strong opinions. One of the key issues for me is that the tools to test for impairment by drug have not yet been established or approved by legislature. Impairment by drug is just as dangerous to community safety as alcohol, so I think the government needs to focus on that piece.

Another thing is that in a border city like ours, there is going to be some confusion because, while it may be legal here, if you enter the U.S. with a joint in your pocket, you’re going to get arrested. There needs to be all kinds of education paralleling the legalization.

Q: What do you think are the other major issues concerning Canada’s law enforcement community today?
The requirement on police to be almost “frontline social and healthcare workers” is extremely taxing on us. We know and embrace the fact we’ll always have a role to play in mental health crises in our communities but at the same time, it’s extremely challenging — especially when we have to use force in a situation that is not criminal but health-related. It’s an area that needs a lot of community thought.

Q: What advice do you have for young people who are considering launching or advancing their career in policing?
You have to demonstrate early on a consistent level of community involvement. Get involved in volunteer work right away. It doesn’t have to be a ton of volunteerism but it has to be consistent over the years and you have to be serious about it. Identify something you enjoy, like the Special Olympics or assisting in mental health initiatives.

The second thing is, again, commit to learning and have a firm knowledge base in technology. We’re not taking people with minimum standards. The competition is high. Position yourself through education to stand out and just keep smiling, helping people and be positive.

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