There are a couple of new faces at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse — RCMP constables whose primary assignment is to police the community, and hopefully build trust while they're at it.
"I know the relationship between the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the police isn't great right now," said Const. Kerry Jury, one of the new officers. "Just hoping to improve that a little bit."
Jury, along with Const. Jordan Booth, have been stationed in the community since the start of the year. They work out of a small office at the First Nation's administrative building.
"We're here and visible," Jury said, "to have people know that we are around, and we are here to help, and we're not the bad guys."
The First Nation had a strained relationship with police for many years. The community has seen its share of violent and drug-related crime, and police weren't always viewed as being responsive. Officers stationed at Kwanlin Dün in the past were routinely called away to other parts of the city.
Booth said spending time in the community and getting to know its citizens, helps "build a little bit more trust."
"Everybody deserves to live in a safe community," he said.
'It's going to take some time'
The move to station RCMP officers at the First Nation grew out of a 2010 report on Yukon policing, called "Sharing Common Ground." The report made a series of recommendations to improve relations between officers and the communities they served — especially First Nations.
Jeanie Dendys, Kwanlin Dün's director of justice, said having officers work at Kwanlin Dün is making a difference, and said the constables are building bridges.
"The community has a chance to get to know them, build a relationship with them," Dendys said. "This will certainly enhance safety within the community."
Dendys also acknowledged that the community still struggles. Drugs and violence are persistent problems.
"We know that's still there," she said. "It's going to take some time to really see change in the community."
But, she said, there are reasons for optimism — the First Nation has been tracking statistics over the past several years, and police have been receiving fewer calls. A good sign, Dendys said.
"Things are getting better. We see it."