Sask.'s only Indigenous police service gives communities 'a lot more control' over policing, says chief

Protests around Canada have been calling for a new way of policing. The File Hills area has been doing its own community-focused Indigenous police force.

File Hills Tribal Council launched the Indigenous police force in 2002 to serve five First Nations

The File Hills First Nation Police Service is the only self-run Indigenous service in Saskatchewan. (File Hills First Nations Police Service)

Protests around the country have called for defunding police and turning to new models for community safety following concerns around police brutality. 

Building connections is one of the pillars of the File Hills First Nations Police Service, which is currently the only self-run Indigenous police service in Saskatchewan.

"It gives the communities a lot more control in how the policing service is delivered," said Len Busch, the chief of the File Hills Police Service.

The File Hills Tribal Council launched the Indigenous police force in 2002 to serve five First Nations northeast of Regina: Okanese, Peepeekisis, Carry the Kettle, Star Blanket and Little Black Bear First Nations.

The service follows the Saskatchewan Police Act and is overseen by a board of police commissioners, made up of appointees who represent the communities served by the force.

"It's working very well," Busch said. "I think we have a good relationship with our communities." 

Busch said there are a number of reasons the File Hills police are more connected to the community, including the fact it is a smaller police service.

As well, the force is made up of local people, which means fewer people from outside the community coming in to police the area.

"It allows us to be here over our long term and to establish positive working relationships with our communities," Busch said. "Just to become familiar faces."

File Hills First Nations Police Service Chief Len Busch says the police service is successful because it is a smaller force and more connected to the community it serves. (File Hills First Nations Police Service)

He said many members of the First Nations see the Indigenous police force as a part of the community and are confident to speak to them when needed. 

Busch says he had both positive and negative interactions with police growing up in Saskatoon in the 1960s, but one stayed with him. 

Walking home one night on Second Avenue in downtown Saskatoon, a Saskatoon Police Service officer stopped him and asked what he was doing. He explained, and the officer told him to get into the car, saying he would drive Busch home. 

"And I kept … looking at him as we drove through the city, like, 'Why does this guy care?'" said Busch.

"As he dropped me off at home and drove away, it just always stuck with me" he said. "It wasn't the police I expected. This guy was kind and he was concerned — that positive interaction made a world of difference to me."

Busch said he continues to think about that moment as chief of the File Hills Police Service, and keeps open lines of communication with people. 

Move toward community focus: chief

Busch said the File Hills model could be expanded to other Indigenous communities. However, there may be barriers, including the cost of establishing and running a new police service. 

"As we all know, the cost of policing is very high," Busch said. "I think it's a good model. But I think all those economical factors have to be taken into account as well."

But Busch says in the long run, it would be worth it for communities. The File Hills force is held accountable more quickly than other forces, is very visible in the community, and informs communities of incidents quickly, he said.

The File Hills First Nations Police Service headquarters. (File Hills First Nations Police Service)

That community focus is something police everywhere should return to, Busch said. 

"I think it's eroded over time," Busch said. 

One of the reasons is because of the changes after 9/11, he said. After Sept. 11, 2001, the focus became national security and a lot of resources for building relationships were put into security, Busch said. 

"It all came down to there's only so much money in the pot and where we have to put it at certain times," Busch said. 

But now things have stabilized, he said, and it's time for police services "to take a look at where we are in terms of working with our communities … as opposed to being that force that comes in and applies policing without the input and involvement of the community."

With files from The Morning Edition