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How Ernie Louttit changed Saskatoon policing

The author and retired police sergeant talks about his experiences patrolling Saskatoon's inner city. (First broadcast March 31, 2014.)
In 1987, Ernie Louttit was one of Saskatoon's few First Nations police officers. (Purich Publishing)
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Ernie Louttit started policing in the inner city of Saskatoon in the late 1980s. He was a novelty back then — Ernie is Cree, and he was one of the few local lawmen who actually looked like most of the people in the predominantly aboriginal area he worked in. Some of the people he apprehended felt they saw themselves when they looked at him, and started calling him "Indian Ernie." He's the author of two books about policing and leadership:Indian Ernie: Perspectives on Policing and Leadership, and More Indian Ernie: Insights from the Streets, which was published in 2015. The now-retired sergeant spoke to Shelagh Rogers in 2014.

ON BEING A NATIVE COP IN A NATIVE NEIGHBOURHOOD
At first you get a lot of resentment from native people. They'd say I was working for the man, that type of thing, and it would rankle me when they said that. Because they were missing the point — I was trying to make our community better, and if that meant policing your own people, then that's what you did. But other people fully embraced it. Native people who had complaints that normally wouldn't make their way to the police would contact me and it led me to some great investigations and great contacts with the community.

ONE TIME HE WAS DEEPLY MOVED
I went to see a woman, a grandmother of a young girl. I suspected that girl was being exploited. And when I got there, she was surprised that I was there. She told me, and it was really a powerful moment, she said, "I didn't think the police would care." And that just sank it for me, and I was hooked on staying in Saskatoon for the rest of my career.

ON CAR CHASES IN SASKATOON
At first I couldn't believe I was in a city in Canada. The economy in Saskatchewan wasn't good, and there were still a lot of racial issues, especially around when I started. I couldn't believe the rate of crime, that was amazing to me. But at the same time, when you're a young cop, it's pretty exciting stuff. You get into car chases and foot chases, there's armed robberies and drug dealing, and Saskatoon had more of its share of murders over the years. I'd be dishonest if I said some of that wasn't pretty darn exciting and fun. But at the same time, there's an underlying sadness and tragedy. I wanted to change things, but it comes at a cost — you see enough blood and children hurt and murders, and your soul's at risk a little bit. But I tried to always keep it in perspective. It's tragic, yes, but we're trying to do something about it.

Ernie Louttit's comments have been edited and condensed.