Chris Voller is moving on after nine years of working in the North Island.
And the RCMP officer who, up until this week, was in charge of the Port Hardy detachment is quick to say how much he’ll miss it.
“Besides the landscape which is so obviously beautiful, the most striking part is the sense of community. People know each other here, and not just their immediate neighbour, but the person down the street,” he said.
It’s good for policing since the familiarity helps police officers spot anything amiss – something much more difficult to do in larger communities. Voller sees policing primarily as a community service. The reactionary aspects — arrests, incarceration, warrants, interventions, etc. — are always there, but to him, real police work happens in the months and years before those moments happen.
“One of the biggest impacts you can have is having a pre-existing relationship with an individual,” Voller said. Having an established sense of trust or respect makes things a lot easier to handle when police intervention is required — and in the best case scenario, prevents the need for police intervention.
Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas says Voller’s involvement in the community has made a noticeable change.
“When you have a leader who wants to work with people and help them be better, it’s not like the old days when if someone gets out of line you throw them into jail. It’s not like that anymore,” Dugas said.
Voller sees it as an obligation to look for the root of what leads people towards criminal behaviour.
“Each circumstance and each client needs to be humanized and have a tailored approach,” he said.
Policing for him means involving community partners to get people the help they need, reducing the need for police interactions.
Voller’s relational approach is not in the absence of challenging policing situations. Between 2009 and 2018 Port Hardy’s crime rate (147.5) was almost double the B.C. average (78.3). This is a measure of criminal code offences per 1,000 residents, excluding traffic violations. A quarter of the crimes committed were violent offences.
But during that span, the rate has decreased, to 131 in 2018 from 179 in 2009.
Voller’s relationships with the four local First Nations — Kwakiutl, Quatsino, Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw — have been a big part of his work towards making the RCMP achieve a culturally competent policing level.
Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw councillor Darryl Coon said, “Big gilakas’la to him, stepping in after Constable Starr left, and filling in his role. He’s very outgoing, very receptive to the community. He’s always willing to help out in any way he could when called upon.”
The relationship between that First Nation and the RCMP has not always been positive, as Coon well knows. Years ago the conflict was so bad that the band council sent Coon to talk with the officer in charge.
Since then things have improved to the point where RCMP are invited to birthday parties and gatherings. Relationship-building has become a main focus, an especially critical thing to retain since RCMP staff come and go every few years.
One thing Voller wishes he could see through is a project initiated by the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations to create an Indigenous court in Port Hardy. It’s still in process though, so even though his North Island time is up, Voller says he’ll stay as involved as needed to make sure the Indigenous court gets approved.
“I believe that we have at the ability to impact people’s quality of life. The decisions we make and the situations that we have influence on are often life-changing circumstances for people,” he said.
“It really comes down to treat people the way you want to be treated.”
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