Creating a Culture of Safety
Heritage Group Meeting of October 16, 2014
Chief Devon Clunis of the Winnipeg Police Service shared a personal, informative, and inspirational story to an appreciative audience of about 30 RRC retirees at the Notre Dame Campus for this month’s meeting.
Devon grew up in a small village called Harmony Vale in Jamaica that didn’t have any electricity or running water, but his mother had a vision for her family. While she moved to Winnipeg, he remained with his grandparents until he came to Canada at age 11. He said he had never been cold before he arrived that day. It was September 15, 1975…little did he know.
He started school shortly after he arrived in Winnipeg but found it was a huge cultural challenge. Everything looked different, including all his classmates, who were mostly Caucasian. When he failed Grade 6, he and his mother had a difficult choice to make: (a) he could continue to Grade 7 and be labelled a slow learner; or (b) he could repeat Grade 6. He chose to repeat Grade 6.
His teacher, Mrs. Hannah, told him if he would come to school one hour early every day she would help him. He and she did that for several months and school became easier for him. By Grade 9 he had achieved the top grades in his class. He stayed out of trouble because he knew Canada was a land of opportunity, but he also knew his Mom would “kill” him if he went down the wrong path.
While watching TV he noticed most of the bad guys looked like him. It helped him decide at an early age he had to do something with his life to set an example for others and to not reinforce the stereotype.
As a teenager, he obtained a part-time job in security in a department store catching shoplifters, which he liked. One day he talked with a police officer who suggested he should think about joining the police service. Devon thought this was a good idea and applied to the Winnipeg Police Service in January 1987. He entered a police recruit class in May 87 and quickly realized “this really is an opportunity”.
When he graduated from the police academy, he walked the Main Street beat. He treated people with respect and dignity because he felt that is the way he would want to be treated. He tried to guide people in the right direction because he felt his job was to intervene when necessary and to help people choose a different path, just like his teacher Mrs. Hannah had done for him.
Devon enjoyed his job and liked to chase the “bad guys.” He had a sense of determination and was successful at his work. However, he recognized that many of the so-called bad guys were young immigrants and realized it was difficult for them to get rid of their scars. Therefore, he tried to intervene before they got into trouble.
Subsequently, he applied for a job as a school resource officer and was successful. He did this for five years, meeting kids and talking to them to steer them in a different direction before they got into trouble. He realized during that time his work wasn’t only about the individual, but also about the community, and became involved in volunteering.
At the time the rule-of-thumb was that an officer who was in the job for five years as a school resource officer would have to transfer to a different position. Devon applied for a promotion and obtained the position of Inspector.
In this position, he wanted to ensure a safe, healthy environment for officers when they came to work, making sure they had time for family, and had the right tools to serve. He worked hard at creating this environment and people started sharing their ideas.
He then became a superintendent. One day he realized his focus had evolved into “crime prevention through social development”. It was a holistic way of dealing with people. This became his vision and philosophy.
Following a trip to Florida in Dec. 2011, Devon thought seriously of retiring (in a warmer climate) but decided to return to Winnipeg and continue to be the best police officer he could be.
When the Chief’s job came up, he applied for it. He felt that because of the various community-based roles in which he had served he understood the people of the city and certainly cared about them. The Chief’s job has given him the opportunity to put his philosophy of “crime prevention through social development” to work. He has held community forums and shared his philosophy. All groups with whom he has spoken have been on board with the philosophy.
He had been told his Grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Hannah, had passed away but discovered she was still alive, although terminally ill. He visited her in hospital to tell her the influence she had had on his life and how her caring had changed the path he had taken. It had been 37 years since he had seen her. She passed away a few weeks after he visited her.
Chief Clunis went on to make several points:
- As a community, we need to invest more time in crime prevention
- We need the entire community involved in community safety with the police taking the lead
- We need to tell individuals what they can do and to give them support
- The police need to shift focus more toward prevention and toward creating a safe, healthy environment
He talked about a pilot project happening in Winnipeg that has provincial, municipal and government support. The project has school, home and the police coming together proactively to deal with people so they don’t enter gangs. He also mentioned the need for community supports such as: parenting classes, beautification of neighbourhoods and school breakfasts and lunches.
Chief Clunis felt strongly that Winnipeg could lead the world as we are so multicultural with hugely successful events such as Folklorama. He concluded by saying every demographic needs to be able to rise to their potential. When people realize there is potential they will push the envelope.