Giv­ing Back.

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Pho­tog­ra­phy by MARK HOLLERON

Meet the Chief.

I learned the im­por­tance of chang­ing peo­ple’s be­hav­ior, be­cause the so­lu­tion isn’t just lock­ing them up, you have to deal with the is­sues that are af­fect­ing them.

When Vern White walks in to a room, there’s no mis­tak­ing that he’s a po­lice of­fi­cer. With his im­pos­ing build and his di­rect ap­proach, Ot­tawa’s Chief of Po­lice ap­pears well suited for an episode of Law & Or­der.

But Chief White is any­thing but typ­i­cal. His weapon of choice is a Black­berry and all emails from the pub­lic come straight to him, with a quick re­sponse to fol­low. When an­other per­son might have buck­led from the chal­lenges faced by the Ot­tawa Po­lice this past year, White just worked harder to main­tain an open di­a­logue with the com­mu­nity. “You have to be ac­count­able and trans­par­ent, as dif­fi­cult as it may be at the time,” he says.

As a kid grow­ing up in Cape Bre­ton, White fully ad­mits he was a bit of a hand­ful, and had the oc­ca­sional run in with lo­cal law en­force­ment. Iron­i­cally, though, it was two off-duty po­lice of­fi­cers who set him on his path in life.

“I was bar­tend­ing while go­ing to col­lege and these two guys would come in to shoot some pool,” re­mem­bers the Chief. “ They in­vited me on a ride-along and I was hooked. I couldn’t be­lieve there was a job that had such a di­rect im­pact on peo­ple’s lives.”

Twenty-nine years later, White is still as pas­sion­ate about polic­ing as he was on that first ride-along. “I think that the most in­flu­en­tial job you can have is as a po­lice of­fi­cer, be­cause of the trust peo­ple have in us,” he says.

And while White ini­tially be­lieved that his job was about “putting peo­ple be­hind bars, not about re­duc­ing vic­tim­iza­tion,” a 19-year stint in Canada’s North changed his mind-set and his en­tire ap­proach to po­lice work.

“I learned the im­por­tance of chang­ing peo­ple’s be­hav­ior, be­cause the so­lu­tion isn’t just lock­ing them up, you have to deal with the is­sues that are af­fect­ing them,” he notes.

The Chief con­tin­ues to be in­volved in ini­tia­tives that em­pha­size preven­tion, in­clud­ing Ot­tawa’s youth drug treat­ment cen­ters. “ The av­er­age street ad­dict com­mits four to eight crimes per day,” he ob­serves, high­light­ing the in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity for crime preven­tion if ad­dic­tion can be nipped in the bud. “ This has been the most en­joy­able pro­ject I’ve ever worked on be­cause of the tan­gi­ble re­sults,” he con­cludes, not­ing that 70 per­cent of the kids who in­ter­act with the pro­gram fin­ish school.

The Chief him­self has a spe­cial fond­ness for higher learn­ing. Since 1997 he has com­pleted both un­der­grad­u­ate and Mas­ter de­grees, and will earn his Doc­tor­ate this year, all while ful­fill­ing pro­fes­so­rial du­ties at var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions.

So do Ot­tawa res­i­dents have to worry that we’ll lose our Chief to academia? White’s an­swer seems pretty cat­e­gor­i­cal. “When I de­cided I wanted to be a po­lice of­fi­cer, that’s all I ever wanted to be.” Cather­ine Clark is the host of Be­yond Pol­i­tics on CPAC, air­ing Sun­day nights at 8 p.m.

Cather­ine Clark,

Com­mu­nity Voice

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