As police forces come under increased scrutiny for their handling of race and diversity, Prince Albert’s police force has nearly achieved what many other forces have not.
Jason Stonechild, inspector in charge of operations with the Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS), said 37 per cent of staff are self-declared as Aboriginal and two of their last 10 hires were First Nations.
According to 2011 census data for P.A., 39.6 per cent of the population is Aboriginal.
“It’s very beneficial having someone who reflects the community going into difficult, complex situations,” he said. “Because of their diversity and connection to the community they’ll be able to resolve situations quicker.”
Though they’re close, PAPS hasn’t yet become as diverse as the city it serves, which Stonechild said has much to do with P.A.’s rural location when recruiting.
“It’s challenging to go through a six-month process to be hired and go away to Regina if you’re a rural youth and aren’t familiar with big cities,” he said. “We have to reach into their home communities and bring them up to a level where they’re prepared to move out.”
Stonechild said police have worked hard to increase the number of Aboriginal officers on the force and have several mentoring programs.
He himself graduated from the Aboriginal Mentoring Program, which is designed to identify quality applicants with Aboriginal ancestry. He said it was an opportunity to understand how fun it was to work with police and see how nice officers were.
“I believe a lot of people could be converted if they see what policing is all about,” he said.
Future officers are also mentored through the Aboriginal Police Prep Program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, where police help students though their abilities tests on the way to joining the police force. Métis students are also hired to work in by-law enforcement.
Stonechild said introducing the population to the behind-the-scenes police work is important to help recruitment and to also avoid any possible demonizing of police through strong relationships with Aboriginal communities.
“Unfortunately with police a lot of time we deal with conflict, so officers have to be strategic or aggressive and that’s in the public eye now more than ever,” he said. “By having these programs and having them see that we’re people too and we’re professional and kind…it’s very helpful.”
He acknowledged a high per cent of P.A.’s vulnerable population is Aboriginal.
Speaking for Chief Troy Cooper, Stonechild said employment equity isn’t the reason why PAPS has Aboriginal recruitment programs.
“We recognize that diversity has value. Not only does it allow us to reflect the community we serve but it provides our organization with a broader perspective…and can be very helpful when looking at solutions to frontline issues our frontline officers face today,” he said.
On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit
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