Devon Clunis, Winnipeg police chief, has high hopes for his replacement

As Devon Clunis, Winnipeg's police chief, gets ready to sail off into retirement, he's already thought about who he'd like to replace him.

'He's done a lot of really good things in our community,' Bear Clan's James Favel says

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis reflects on 29 years of police service. 2:12

As Devon Clunis, Winnipeg's police chief, gets ready to sail off into retirement, he's already thought about who he'd like to replace him. 

But he's not giving up any names.

"Not today," chuckled Clunis in a sit down interview with CBC News late last week. "Wouldn't be right." 

One thing Clunis is clear on is that policing is about more that just dealing with crime. 

He'd like to see the next police chief recognize the importance of building safe, healthy communities and the need to tackle the deep social issues he believes are often at the root of crime.
Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis reflects on 29 years of police service. 1:42

"Yes, we are here to enforce the law," said Clunis. "But, we can do it in a very compassionate way that builds a very strong relationship with the community that we serve."

Clunis spent 29 years with the Winnipeg police before announcing his retirement in March. He said since the beginning of his career, he's always been interested in the social side of police work. 

"I remember the very first day walking the beat on Main Street and realizing the issues we're dealing with, these aren't necessarily police issues," said Clunis. "They're deep social issues, and so my entire career I've wanted to do something to impact that." 

He feels he got that opportunity when he took on the job as the city's top cop in 2012. He said he has worked at changing the nature of policing and embedding the police service in the community. 

Sometimes it's as simple as encouraging officers to park the cruiser car and spend time engaging with young people.

"Even if you look at our mission and vision those are totally revamped," said Clunis. "The key piece that I really appreciate is what we call crime prevention through social development....The greatest piece of that was bringing the entire community together."

Community groups sad to see Clunis go

James Favel helped resurrect the Bear Clan last year. The group of volunteers patrol Winnipeg's streets Thursday through Sunday and offer help and support to people who need it.
James Favel of the Bear Clan Patrol hopes the next police chief will continue to work with community groups. (CBC)

He said it's a shame to see Clunis go.

"He's done a lot of really good things in our community," said Favel. 

Favel said going forward he'd like to see a chief that is as willing as Clunis to work with the community and work with grassroots groups like the Bear Clan.

"Help us to help them," said Favel. "That's what we're after. We just want to keep things going the way they've been. We've had a lot of great successes in our community."

Leah Gazan is an instructor at the University of Winnipeg and has spent years advocating for Indigenous issues. 

She's recognized Clunis' efforts to have a greater focus on community. 

"I think he did a lot of innovative things," said Gazan. 

She wants to see a police chief with a clear understanding of social justice issues, along with the skills to build relationships and make things better.

"Instead of having five million police on the beat, you know how do you improve neighbourhood safety in a visionary way so you don't need as many police in the future," said Gazan. 

New chief should address tensions with indigenous community

Gazan said she saw Clunis making more of an attempt to try and improve conversations with the indigenous community than she'd seen in the past. 
Leah Gazan commends Clunis's efforts to stengthen relationships with the Indigenous community, but says there's more work to be done. (CBC)

Gazan said there has been some positive changes, but more needs to be done to reduce tensions between the Indigenous community and police.

"When we're looking at systemic changes, we're looking at training, we're looking at policy shifts to make sure that we account for racism and prejudice that are just part of human nature," said Gazan. 

Clunis said he knows there's still more work to be done, but he's confident the police force and the city are heading in the right direction. 

"When your citizens are telling you that they feel the difference that is significant," said Clunis, adding he will stay on until the next chief of police is chosen.

Police board to find replacement

Among others, Supt. Danny Smyth could be one of the candidates considered for the job.

The Winnipeg Police Board is tasked with finding a replacement for Clunis. 
Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis reflects on 29 years of police service. 0:51

"Recruiting the next chief of police is the boards top priority," said the board's chair Scott Gillingham, adding he couldn't reveal what or who had been discussed so far. 

Gillingham did acknowledge the work that Clunis had done so far, and the need for it to continue. 

"I think he will be missed," said Gillingham. "The strategic plan if you look at it in detail really reflects a lot of chief Clunis' vision....The next chief we believe needs to also embrace the strategic plan that was just released a year ago."

Clunis feels fortunate to have had the experience he did.

"For a little boy coming from Jamaica, who grew up in the conditions that I grew up in," explained Clunis. "To grow up and become a police officer in our city, to be a chief of police in our city, to be the first black chief of police in the history of Canada, I could have never dreamt that."