Meet Darren Montour, the new chief for Six Nations Police

Darren Montour spoke with Craig Norris from The Morning Edition - K-W about his background, the challenges he plans to take on and what First Nations policing can teach other law enforcement services amid calls across North America to defund police.

Montour talks body cameras and how First Nations are models for community policing

Darren Montour has worked for Six Nations Police Service for 28 years. Last month he was named chief. (Submitted by Darren Montour)

Darren Montour was born and raised on Six Nations of Grand River.

Like his father and grandfather he began his career as an iron worker, but he quickly felt the pull to policing.

Montour has worked for Six Nations Police for 28 years and last month he was appointed chief.

He spoke with Craig Norris from The Morning Edition - K-W about his background, the challenges he plans to take on and what First Nations policing can teach other law enforcement services amid calls across North America to defund police.

Q. 1: You have become police chief during a global pandemic. How would you describe your first month on the job?

"I'm still in a transition phase so it's been quite busy and, at times a bit eye-opening as to what the former chief Glenn Lickers had led through. I'm getting adjusted. Things have levelled off so to speak."

Q. 2: So even though you worked there for 28 years you didn't get a full scope of what a chief of police has to deal with?

"Not in that realm, no. I came from a criminal investigations background, so I was dealing with all of the major incidents that occurred on the territory over the last nine years or so. Before that I was a criminal intelligence officer."

Q. 3: I understand one of your members became sick with COVID-19 toward the start of the shutdown, but they've recovered now. How are you keeping your officers safe?

"Yes. We issue them their own PPE kits. Each of them has gloves and masks and we actually have the Level 1 suits for any type of investigations that actually take them into a residence such as a drug warrant. We protect them as much as we can and we have all the COVID precautions in our station as well, like visitors wearing masks, hand washing."

Taking on drugs and addiction

Q. 4: You've been on the ground. What do you feel are the main challenges in your community that you're going to be contending with as a chief?

"It's going to be a continued effort with drug investigation because fentanyl has infested our territory. Heroin and other new drugs have [also] come along over the last several years. It's a problem for our youth. In my culture our youth are our future, so I want to ensure we can do the best job possible and target those that are trafficking in those illicit drugs."

Q. 5: What is your approach in dealing with drugs and addiction. Is it a law and order perspective or is it a public health perspective?

"It's a community perspective. We developed a drug strategy committee before COVID started to where all the social agencies in the community get together and say 'OK, how can we combat this and get this illicit product off our territory?'

I know a lot of people look at police as 'What are you going to do about it? Arrest these people.' Enforcement is only one aspect of the whole healing process for those who are addicted.

We come in at the beginning when the people are at their lowest, do what we have to do, then the addiction is still there after we're done, so we rely on our public health people, our drug counsellors to work collaboratively to try to combat this problem."

Montour grew up on Six Nations and says First Nations police services are a model of what community-based policing should look like. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Q. 6: You've talked about launching a mobile crisis response unit. Would that all be part of it as well?

"Yes it would. I see, and it's not only here on Six Nations, it's everywhere, that mental health and drugs go hand in hand. It's an unfortunate thing to happen. You could just see the progression over the years as these harder drugs came into the territory and what it's done to our people."

Q. 7: We're hearing about more police services considering or introducing body cameras. Is that something you'd want to see worn by Six Nations Officers?

"Yes I would. That will help enhance the accountability for the community and transparency. Everyone will get to see what the officers see at that time that the incident is ongoing as well as providing excellent court evidence for the elements of the offence they may be investigating."

Community policing and building trust

Q. 8: You talk about more human resources like more people to deal with drugs, a mobile crisis unit and cameras. What kind of funding do you think you'll need to get different initiatives off the ground?

"Luckily, for the mobile crisis response team, the Six Nations Mental Health team has secured some funding. We're still in the preliminary states of planning how to do this. 

And our drug unit our funding comes from the Six Nations Elected Council. My hat is off to them for providing that for us. 

For other technological items such as the body cameras and ... implementing mobile workstations in the police vehicles we're looking at a significant amount of funding. I've always said that First Nations policing has always been funded secondary through the provincial and federal governments, unfortunately. That's just the way it's been."

Q. 9: In recent months there have been calls to defund police all across North America and a recognition of systemic racism in different police services out there. What do you think that means for you in your role?

"For us, I always say the police service should be diverse to the community it polices . Six Nations being Iroquois people, like 99.9 per cent of our officers are from Six Nations and have grown up on the territory itself. Diversity-wise I feel we're way ahead of the game and for community-based policing principles to work I see First Nations policing as the model."

Q. 10: How do you build trust of the police in your community right now?

"It's just being out there, engaging with the public. I know for the officers who did not grow up on the territory it's a matter of getting out, talking to people, just being there and being visible. I always made a point when I was working uniform … go to the sporting events, go to the parades, go to the different stores. Talk to people. Be seen and let them know you're normal like them and you want the betterment for the whole community."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.