Nova Scotia·Opinion

What happens in the U.S. matters here, says police Chief Jean Michel-Blais

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean Michel-Blais gave a speech at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce Friday where he spoke on how police shootings in the United States impact policing in Halifax. Read it here.

Michel-Blais gave the following speech at the Halifax Chamber of Conference on Friday

Jean Michel-Blais has been chief of Halifax Regional Police since October 2012. (Halifax Regional Police)

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean Michel-Blais gave a speech at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce Friday where he spoke on how police shootings in the United States impact policing in Halifax.

Here is a condensed version of that speech, edited lightly for grammar and clarity. It is titled What Happens There Matters Here.

When I was first approached to speak to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, I openly wondered what I could say of value to you as business people.

An obvious starting point would be the link between policing and something that I am sure you are all very interested in — that being economic prosperity. 

But I also recognized that beyond the whole question of crime and economic indicators, of which we are all very interested, there were issues of how people see those indicators and how it affects their trust toward law enforcement. That is what I want to talk to you about today: our societal perceptions.

CNN society

In our "CNN society" where sound bites are limited by our short attention spans and our thoughts are condensed into 140 characters, we deal more and more with the inherent challenges and opportunities that traditional and social media presents.

Social media contributes to the opacity of the challenges in today's world, while also contributing to the speed at which events and issues become obtuse. And it is that opacity which further complicates our work.

In a recent issue of the Economist, an article entitled Art of the Lie spoke about the idea of "post-truth politics" where there is a reliance on assertions that "feel true" but have no basis in fact.

The Ferguson Effect

We in Canada have often lived under the long shadow of America. Particular to the U.S. experience, the events in these cities have underscored the challenges that police there and in the entire United States have had to deal with.

But it also speaks to the challenges that we have here in Canada as people try to link the two together as a result of that interconnectedness through social media.

This is what I term the Ferguson Effect.

Whereas in the U.S. the Ferguson Effect refers to the reticence that some police officers may have dealing with certain citizens for fear of being labelled a racist, for me the Ferguson Effect essentially means that what happens there matters here.

That some event, as isolated as it is to a specific faraway place, has a direct or indirect correlation here in Halifax — be it a visceral reaction, a call to action or a genuine desire to make changes. These events oftentimes affect the trust that we, as a police service, have or don't have.

Focus on preparation

We must recognize that we live in a world of complex ambiguities and contradictions that need to be managed not by simple solutions, but by approaches that require time, effort, money and especially thought.

This is a societal effort that is required not just from the political sphere, or the policing sphere, but the social and economic one.

Everybody has a role in this. As human beings we are great at "post-dicting," but lousy at predicting. We must be cognizant of this very important limitation. As such, we need to be less focused on prediction and more on preparation.

HRP's strategic plan

For us to enforce that public peace, the challenge for us here in Halifax, in Nova Scotia and in Canada is to collectively get to know one another. We also recognize that there is no point in being economically strong if we are socially weak.

That is the goal of HRP's strategic plan and the way that we work and will continue to work together. We want to be intelligence-led, problem-solving community contributors.

We do that by getting to know our communities and the people in them. And having them get to know us. Through these connections we build and maintain the confidence and trust of the people we work for every day.

Technological boundaries

Will we get it right every time? No. But we owe it to those who pay our bills and support us to strive to develop those approaches and community relationships that will allow us to deal with the challenges that we face every single day, be they here in Halifax or elsewhere in the world, real or perceived.

That is the challenge of the world we live in. Ours in Halifax is no longer defined by such quaint geographical boundaries such as Hubbards and Ecum-Secum, but by the limits that technology has and will give us.

In essence, that's almost limitless, because what happens there, anywhere, eventually matters here.