The Niagara Regional Police Service’s new boss sits down for a chat
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The new Chief of the Niagara Regional Police Service, Bryan MacCulloch, who took the job last September, looks just about what you’d ask for if you called central casting and barked, “Get me a police chief!”
Tall, fit, blue-eyed, MacCulloch speaks in reassuring tones, says nothing provocative, and occasionally glances at the NRPS media relations specialist present during our conversation.
This is less-than-ideal for an interviewer, who seeks both to keep a subject comfortable and to encourage some candour, but it is probably just about what you want in a police chief.
In our hyper-political climate, which has come to encompass Regional politics, it is difficult to fault an officer committed to remaining apolitical. MacCulloch is, after all, responsible for an operating budget of some $137 million dollars, 650 sworn members, and a further 350 unsworn staff.
MacCulloch started his career with the NRPS some 30 years ago. Lined up on a shelf in his office is the evidence: each of his hats from each of his previous positions. MacCulloch pointed to them and explained how the brim’s gold insignias grew larger with successive promotions.
“Or, as we call them, scrambled eggs,” said MacCulloch.
PICCOLO: You’ve been on the job about eight months now, is that right?
MACCULLOCH: September twenty-eighth.
So eight months thereabouts. What’s been the biggest surprise to you so far? I know you were involved [at a high level] before—
The biggest surprise has just been how busy a job it is. There are just so many tentacles within the job of policing. There’s the political aspect, of trying to keep twelve mayors and Regional Council all happy and informed of all the initiatives we’re undertaking. There’s the provincial legislation that changes. There’s the Safer Ontario Act that’s coming down the pipe, there’s the marijuana legislation. All of these things have a tremendous impact on our officers and staff, providing training, keeping that all sorted out.
Prior to becoming chief you were a deputy chief—
For how many years have you been in administration? Or I could say, how long have you been out of a blue shirt and into the white?
So I was a deputy chief for four and half years, so the last time I was a staff sergeant out on the road would have been 2009.
So about a decade. And was that a big transition, going from out on the street into the office? I watched the video you did back in December, ‘Kids Say the Darnedest Things,’ and all the things the kids thought you did. I thought the one that’s probably right is the paperwork one.
Yes, the paperwork.
Which is a big difference from being out there.
It’s much more strategic in terms of planning, responding to the various legislative changes and whatnot. It’s a different role. You’re still in a leadership role, you know, still trying to stay connected with the front line. From my perspective, any changes that we implement—I can have the greatest idea in the world, but the reality is until I run it past the front-line people actually doing the work, my idea could be the dumbest idea in the world. You know what I mean? It needs to be tried and true on the front line, where the rubber hits the road.
Is that something you try to do? Keep a balance between these sorts of strategic initiatives that get drawn up in the office here and running them through and making sure they’re actually—
I think our focus, going forward, of the command team is continuous improvement in trying to improve and provide the best policies and services that we can to the citizens of Niagara. For me, the best way of doing that is being an inclusive leader, and including the people involved in the decision-making process. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I’m the Chief, and I have the authority to make the decision. But really, I should never be in that position because it should be all about collaboration and gaining consensus so that collectively we come to the best decision.
Going back to the political aspect you mentioned earlier, the twelve mayors and Regional Council, obviously there’s a political element, and we don’t have to get into that too much. But I have to imagine that’s a big challenge. There’s an election in the fall and there could be a completely different police services board, and it could be a different administration at the Region. What’s your strategy in making sure that you’re not just the Chief for this board, you’re the Chief for the next board, and you’re not just their guy.
As far as politics is concerned, I stay out of politics. That’s not my role. If there’s a new board that comes in, in January, my role would be to educate them and inform them as to what they need to know about policing. It’s a completely—policing has a lot of complexities to it. There’s a lot of legislative requirements that on the surface a layperson looking at it saying, “Why do you do that? That doesn’t seem like it would necessary.” Well, because it’s legislated in the Police Services Act. That would be my role. We’ve done that in the past when previous boards have come on. That will be one of the first things we do with the new board, to give them a kind of overview of the organization, and I’ll bring in various unit commanders so they can have an understanding of all the different functions that our police service has.
With respect to the Niagara Regional Police as a whole, you’ve been there for thirty plus years, so it’s safe to say that you know the organization pretty much as well as anyone. And I hear a lot of good things about the NRP. Back in January we did a story on [Chaplain] Gary Page—I think you went with him to Queen’s Park—
And the chaplains couldn’t stop talking about how many great interactions with officers. But I do hear other things too. In speaking to some ex-OPP officers, and ex-NRP ones too, they describe problems that I think are present in a lot of police forces. Issues of nepotism, of a lot of alpha males around the room. Are those challenges that exist here?
Not that I’m aware of. I don’t know where those comments are coming from. The reality is that there are a lot of family members who are exposed to their parents working in the field of policing. That’s not unusual right across Canada, right across the US. Whether the individual’s parents are a nurse, whether they’re a firefighter, or a police officer, you often see kids following in their parents footsteps. We do have some children of offices who work on the service, but I wouldn’t say there’s a problem with nepotism in the organization.
Going back to your point about trying to be an inclusive chief, one of the other big topics for polices forces, not just the NRP—and maybe not even specifically with the NRP, I’m not familiar with any cases here—I’m thinking of the RCMP with the issue of females in the force. The RCMP has been the subject of a pretty substantial lawsuit [for claims of discrimination, abuse and harassment], and I think there’s something like $120 million dollars they’ve put aside as settlement for that. Is that something you’ve seen over the years? When you started thirty plus years ago was it more of macho culture? Has there been an effort to broaden that and make it a better place for women to work? Because I know my sister is really interested in policing, but when there are stories like that my mother tells her to think twice about it.
Our focus is, and we’ve provided training to every single person in the organization on the importance of a respective workplace. We’ve made that a priority. Not that—we’ve done it as a pre-emptive measure, because we don’t have the issues fortunately, that other agencies have experienced. Going forward, you know, I have a daughter, and if she chose to be a member of the police service I’d be quite happy to have her work in this organization, as I would have for any friend or relative interested in policing. We try to be as respectful and as inclusive as possible, regardless of gender or sexual preference.
Okay. One of the things I think is interesting about the NRP vis-a-vis other police forces in more urban areas, like the Toronto Police Service for example—I went most of my childhood and adolescence without really speaking to a police officer. It was probably pure luck that I didn’t get them called on me in a few cases, but how can you, in an area that’s vast and sparsely populated, how can the police engage people more not just when they’re called to a specific instance? You know, build a rapport in everyday things. Because I know until the past few years, I didn’t exactly have a fear, but I was apprehensive in some way. The gun, the vest, the handcuffs—these things can be intimidating.
Our focus going forward is really to engage the community as much as possible. We have a number of initiatives, whether it’s “Coffee with a Cop,” whether it’s “Proaction Cops and Kids” to try and engage all levels of the community, whether it’s youth, the seniors, to and humanize the badge if you will. To try and demonstrate to—yeah, you know, we carry a gun, but we’re just the same as you. We blend in in the neighbourhoods, we’re part of the community, we’re actively engaged in coaching sports. We’re actively volunteering on a number of critical organizations in our community, so that would be what I would want to express to the public. We’re the same as everybody else, we just happen to be doing the job of a police officer. And, you know, going forward, using social media, Facebook, Twitter, we’re doing our best to try and get that message out that we are just humans.
Any specific initiatives that are on the table right now that you want the public to know about?
There’s police week [which ran nationally, May 11-17]. So in all of our districts across the region we have different educational forums taking place for the public to provide information about the different aspects of policing. Again, for some people, as you mentioned before, you didn’t have much interaction with the police. We’re hoping to cause those interactions. To provide that education to the public, so they have a better appreciation and understanding of what our officers do.
I think in that regard it’ll mean that, as a member of the public, you’re not just engaging with the police when something bad happens. When you get in an accident, when you get robbed, or you do something wrong.
Right. Our officers are involved in so many initiatives. Whether it’s with Special Olympics bowling, ball hockey, we just had the Student Rocks competition.
Is that curling?
No. It’s basically a mentorship program with student in the high schools, where our officers mentor them in how to play guitar. And then they—
Do you play?
No, I don’t. No, I can’t play a note.
They couldn’t find an officer to mentor you?
No. And then they have a competition that they hold annually at the Scotiabank Centre in Niagara Falls. It’s a great initiative to interact with the youth. We certainly recognize that in the past, years and years ago, there was this segregation that occurred between police and the public. And now we realize that we are the public. So we have to do our best to try and demonstrate to the public that we’re on the same platform as them. We’re wearing a badge and performing a duty, but that’s about gaining the public trust. We’re very fortunate in Niagara to have such a high level of public trust, and we want to everything we can to maintain and build upon that trust.
Anything else you want to add?
No, I think that’s good.
Okay, well, I know you’re a busy guy, so I’ll let you get back to your day. But thanks very much for your time.
Thank you. ◆