Badge, gun, hol­ster, skate­board … meet Canada's first skate­board­ing cop

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Ashifa Kas­sam in Longueuil

When Thierry Hinse-Fil­lion ar­rived at a skatepark on the out­skirts of Mon­treal for his first day in his new po­si­tion, he was greeted with stares. Some – tak­ing note of his uni­form and pa­trol car – won­dered if he was there to ar­rest some­one. Oth­ers watched as the 32-year-old po­lice of­fi­cer opened the boot of his car and pulled out a skate­board.

“There was just this si­lence,” said Hinse-Fil­lion. “It was in­cred­i­ble. Then I got on my skate­board and no­body could un­der­stand what was go­ing on.”

He qui­etly made his way to a cor­ner of the skatepark and be­gan launch­ing into a few tricks. Slowly the stares sub­sided and the park re­turned to its nor­mal rhythm – al­beit one that now in­cluded Canada’s first skate­board­ing cop.

The po­si­tion with the po­lice de­part­ment of Longueil, a city near Mon­treal in Que­bec, of­fi­cially launched in mid-June. But it had been years in the mak­ing, thanks to Hinse-Fil­lion, a three-year vet­eran of the po­lice force who had long dreamed of com­bin­ing polic­ing with his love of skate­board­ing.

He knew it was an un­usual matchup. Hinse-Fil­lion had grown up skat­ing out­side churches and shop­ping cen­tres – and get­ting into runins with po­lice. Skate­board­ers of­ten saw po­lice as noth­ing more than author­ity fig­ures who hand out tick­ets, he said. “So I said to my­self, I’m go­ing to use my pas­sion – my sport – to try and chip away at that bar­rier.”

Af­ter join­ing the po­lice, he spent two years of his free time map­ping out ex­actly how his project could work, putting to­gether a for­mal pro­posal for the de­part­ment. “Lots of peo­ple have asked me, why put a po­lice of­fi­cer in a skate­board?” he said. “I know that it’s quite unique, but at its essence it’s also quite sim­ple. You use sport to get closer to the com­mu­nity and all the ben­e­fits come from that.”

Hinse-Fil­lion al­ready had one trail­blazer in North Amer­ica to cite to his su­pe­ri­ors: in 2014, a cop in Green Bay, Wis­con­sin, Joel Zwicky, had be­gun pa­trolling on skate­board. De­scribed as the world’s first skate­board­ing cop, Zwicky has said his aim is to break down what he called the “cop ver­sus skate­boarder men­tal­ity.” The Longueuil po­lice de­part­ment even­tu­ally ac­cepted Hinse-Fil­lion’s pro­posal, but a few con­cerns lin­gered. Wor­ried about in­juries, they ap­proved a slimmed down uni­form – which still in­cludes a gun tucked into a hol­ster on his left hip – to en­sure he could carry out his du­ties but not be weighed down while skate­board­ing. Hinse-Fil­lion waved aside con­cerns about ac­ci­den­tally dis­charg­ing the gun, point­ing to the safety catch. “I could hit it with a ham­mer and noth­ing would hap­pen,” he said.

Dur­ing a typ­i­cal shift, Hinse-Fil­lion tours through the city’s eight skateparks, chat­ting with any­one he finds there, from young chil­dren to 55-year-olds. For some, the project has trans­formed the way they see the city’s skateparks. A hand­ful of re­tired peo­ple have be­gun drop­ping by when he’s there, while par­ents of some of the younger vis­i­tors to the park have spo­ken out about be­ing re­as­sured by his pres­ence at the park. On a Sun­day evening spent with the Guardian at one skatepark, two young kids stood next to Hinse-Fil­lion, con­spic­u­ously hang­ing on to his every word.

But most of the time, those at the skateparks don’t pay much at­ten­tion to him. “It’s a bit weird to have a cop here,” said 17-year-old Maxime Goyette. “My friends took some pho­tos of him the first day he was here. But it hasn’t changed any­thing here.” Si­mon Ratté-Berubée, 15, added, “Peo­ple come here to skate, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter if it’s a cop or not.”

The re­cep­tion has been more pos­i­tive than Hinse-Fil­lion had ex­pected. “I thought I would hear from peo­ple who didn’t want any­thing to do with the po­lice, but I haven’t. Be­cause if they don’t want to be around me, they leave as soon as I ar­rive,” he said.

His col­leagues have also em­braced the new po­si­tion – teas­ingly re­fer­ring to him as ‘the star’ over the many me­dia in­ter­views he’s done in re­cent months – but also pass­ing along the names of trou­bled youth to keep an eye out for while he’s at the parks. Of­ten he shares with th­ese youth his own story of drop­ping out of school at age 15 and later turn­ing his life around. “I don’t have to ask, tell me about your life, I just in­vite them to skate with me. That gives them the im­pres­sion that the po­lice are some­thing dif­fer­ent than what they’ve known.”

So far, the project is just a pilot, sched­uled to end this month. Af­ter­wards Hinse-Fil­lion will sit down with his su­pe­ri­ors to eval­u­ate whether the po­si­tion should be­come a per­ma­nent fix­ture of the Longueuil po­lice de­part­ment.

For Hinse-Fil­lion, there’s lit­tle doubt that the past few months have proved the un­likely com­bi­na­tion of skate­board­ing and polic­ing to be a suc­cess. “When I get on my skate­board and I do some tricks that they can’t do or that would im­press them, then I’ve cre­ated a bond with them,” he said. “You can see the uni­form fall. They don’t see the po­lice of­fi­cer any more, they just see a guy on a skate­board.”

Canada’s first skate­board­ing po­lice of­fi­cer rolls into ac­tion – video

Pho­to­graph: Ashifa Kas­sam for the Guardian

Thierry Hinse-Fil­lion is Canada’s first skate­board­ing po­lice­man.

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