New Brunswick

Saint John police chief says he's never witnessed racism in long career

Saint John police Chief Stephan Drolet says he's never been witness to racism as a police officer, but he promises he's ready to deal with it in his new job. 

Policing agencies need to do things differently and involve people, says Stephan Drolet

Stephan Drolet began his new role as chief of the Saint John Police Force on Feb. 24. (City of Saint John/Twitter)

Saint John police Chief Stephan Drolet says he's never witnessed racism as a police officer, but he promises he's ready to deal with it in his new job.

Public trust is just one of the biggest issues the police force has to deal, he added.

"Regaining the community's trust and having a dialogue on how we move forward from what's happening and make sure we do engage with our community and that people have a say in how we police their city — to me, that's the biggest challenge." 

With calls to defund the police from the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of two Indigenous New Brunswickers, policing agencies in New Brunswick are under increasing scrutiny. 

Drolet said the message is loud and clear that policing agencies need to do things differently and involve people. 

"What I'm going to do moving forward is I'm going to reach out, so I want to create a diversity advisory committee. For me, I want to have key people in the community come and meet me every three months." 

Drolet said he can see the advisory committee's terms of reference being to consider how the Saint John Police Force can  do better and how can it serve the community better. 

"Basically, it's for them to give me their opinion on how we can do better and work together to forge those bridges and make sure we get our relationship going." 

Strategic plan

The chief said he is also going to work to develop a five-year strategic plan that will include input from internal and external stakeholders on how they see the police force operating for the next five years.

"I come from outside the province, as you know, so I've got no preconceived ideas, but I need to go and talk to the people who are involved in delivering the service and receiving the service and how to do we go from there delivering in the next five years." 

When asked how diverse the Saint John Police Force is, meaning how many members were Black or Indigenous, Drolet said he didn't have that information.

Asked if he thought there was systemic racism in Canadian policing, Drolet responded by saying there was racism in the the community. 

"Every community has some racism issues and policing is no different," said Drolet, who was with the RCMP for 27 years, most of that time in British Columbia.

" I'm a Caucasian male. I don't know, I never seen it, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I don't know." 

Despite this, Drolet said he is committed to dealing with racism. 

"As the leader of this department, I need to deal with it to make sure our diverse community is engaged and they see themselves in their police force." 

Asked if he had ever directly witnessed racism in his time as a police officer, Drolet said, "I've never been witness to it."

But Drolet said that was his experience.

"Am I saying it doesn't exist? I'm sure it does and I need to make sure we have a process in place to listen to our community that if it does exist, we do better at serving them." 

In other issues, Drolet said an upcoming partnership with the mental health crisis team at Horizon Health to work with the force is positive. 

He said he's also not opposed to having officers wear body cameras when out on calls. 

Both initiatives will be in place by late summer.  

With files from Information Morning Saint John