North Preston is celebrating the promotion this morning of Halifax Regional Police Sgt. Dean Simmonds to the rank of inspector, the highest rank any officer from the community has achieved.
His official swearing-in ceremony takes place today at 11 a.m. at city hall.
Simmonds is modest about the promotion and gives credit to those helped him.
"I had some mentors … that basically helped me and provided a baseline for me to do well in my life," he said.
Simmonds joined the Halifax Regional Police in 2001 working as a beat officer mainly in north-end Halifax.
Community members say he started to make a name for himself around 2006. At the time, Uniacke Square was plagued with violence, street-level drug dealing and prostitution.
He 'fit the bill'
Irvine Carvery, the property manager at Uniacke Square at the time, pressured the police force to have a presence in the neighbourhood 24/7.
So, in 2006, Halifax Regional Police opened the community office on Olympic Court in the heart of "the square."
Carvery says residents wanted someone from the community.
"That person was Dean Simmonds," he said. "He just fit the bill. He knew the people from his own background. He was sympathetic to the issues that were faced by the people of Uniacke Square."
Carvery says Simmonds was able to connect with single mothers in the area whose children may have taken the wrong path.
"Dean worked with those mothers and with the sons to turn those kids' lives around, and it was his relationship with the parents that really, really sealed it for me. I said, 'This is the guy that we need here at this particular time.'"
Back in 2006, Carvery says, no one wanted to live in Uniacke Square. Now, it's a different place.
"People are now on waiting lists to come into Uniacke Square. There's a 1,000 per cent difference in attitude among people here in 'the square.'
"I don't believe it would have been as successful as what it was if we hadn't had Dean Simmonds as our community relations officer," said Carvery. "A year after taking up his post in 'the square,' he was named Halifax Regional Police officer of the year."
Difficult time for force
Simmonds' promotion comes at a difficult time for the force.
A CBC News investigation earlier this year found that black people are three times more likely to be pulled over by a Halifax police officer than anyone else in the city. Simmonds — whose most recent assignment was as the force's equity diversity officer — says communication is key.
"I think it's an opportunity for me to sit alongside the executive team and members in our organization to have a conversation alongside with community members and I look forward to that," he said.
As diversity officer, Simmonds was responsible for recruitment and his efforts are paying off there as well.
Another recent CBC News investigation showed Halifax Regional Police does a better job than any other Canadian city in reflecting the diversity of the community it serves.
As he prepares to be sworn in, Simmonds says all he wants is to be an example.
"I look at my role in policing as making young men and women throughout the greater community of Halifax an opportunity and a chance to see that this is possible," he said.