Deputy police chief hopes to leave legacy of kindness, caring

Deputy Ottawa police chief Jill Skinner will hang up her uniform this Friday, bringing an end to nearly 40 years of service, and she hopes caring for people will be her legacy.

Jill Skinner retiring Friday after nearly 40 years on the force

Deputy Ottawa police chief Jill Skinner hangs up her uniform this Friday after nearly 40 years on the job. (CBC Ottawa)

As deputy Ottawa police chief Jill Skinner gets ready to hang up her uniform this Friday, bringing an end to nearly 40 years of service, she's hoping caring for people will be both her legacy and the force's motto going forward.

"Every single interaction with every person, even just walking down the street and smiling at somebody when you're in uniform, it has an impact," Skinner told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning in a recent interview.

"I think we should be role-modelling just being nice and being kind."

The force has been undergoing a lot of change amid increasing public scrutiny, calls for more visible minorities and women in the ranks, and challenges to the way it's traditionally done business.

Skinner said she believes hiring more officers and offloading some calls for service that don't necessarily need a police response are part of the way forward.

The force should reconsider sending officers to incidents that don't necessarily require a police response, Skinner says. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

'Take the time to build relationships'

"You have to be able to take the time to build relationships," she said.

"I think that as new immigrants come to Canada, they end up in a cycle, and we've seen it throughout history. The Irish went through it, the Italians went through it, the Somalis went through it, and now we have newer groups, we have Syrians coming. So as they come into the city I think we're learning a lot from those experiences on the way that people might have been ostracized in the past, and trying to be more welcoming."

Part of that effort included meeting with new arrivals, alongside other agencies, to assure them authority figures here don't pose a threat.

"Because when you're coming from somewhere else and you think that that's the reality, we tried to just change that for them, change what the actual landscape is because this is a great country. We have great police officers from coast to coast," Skinner said.

Asked what her proudest moment has been, Skinner said it's been building and maintaining relationships with victims of crime over many years — and not just talking about cases, but about life in general.

More of that will serve the force well, she said.

"We're looking for people who care about other people, and that will give us the end result that we're looking for," Skinner said.

Nearly forty years ago Jill Skinner showed up for her first day of work at the Ottawa Police Service. This week she's hanging up her uniform and her badge. 9:01

'So much opportunity to do good'

Skinner's policing career had unlikely beginnings. She wanted to be a teacher but didn't find much support to make it a reality. A friend tried to get her to become a bank teller, and Skinner filled out the forms but "thankfully" didn't go through with it.

Then, another friend who had an appointment with a recruiting officer had to back out at the last minute, so Skinner took her place.

But she also had to overcome some difficulties at home.

"I came from a family that had some challenges ... and it kind of reflected on me on the things that I didn't want to do. Being involved in domestic violence, making sure that I was the calming voice," Skinner said. "There is so much opportunity to do good, that if you only focus on the good, I knew that I could make a difference. So that's what I tried to do.

"I hope that I'm remembered as somebody that cared about the people, that made positive change for my city.... I think that's enough.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning