Incoming Dryden Police Chief Rob Davis describes a poignant moment when Dryden city councillor Brian Collins recently took him aside at city hall to show him portraits and photographs of his grand- father and great grandfather, two local residents with a long history of service to the community.
Davis’ great grandfather, CJ Wright, was a two-term mayor (1935-37, 1951-53) while Cyril Wright was a longtime city councillor.
It might feel like a tough act to follow for Davis, who says reminders of the depth of his family roots in the area have lurked around every corner. His mother was born in Dryden though Davis grew up primarily in Southern Ontario, a resident of Six Nations, a First Nations community near Brantford.
“It’s been a bit like a homecoming,” he says. “Just running into the grocery store is turning into a hour and 15 minutes — bumping into people we knew from before. It’s been great, everyone’s been welcoming and friendly.”
Davis’ wife, whom he met in Sioux Lookout during a stint as regional commander for the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service (NAPS), has her own share of ties to the region, hailing from Fort Frances.
On the job for a scant few days now, Davis says recent community surveys issued by former chief Shayne MacKinnon will be an invaluable tool in gauging the public’s perception of the police force and their priorities. The survey saw a very high return rate (over 40 per cent) and was instrumental in creating a business plan for the police service prior to MacKinnon’s departure.
“My job is to make sure that (business plan) transitions into reality now,” said Davis. “It’s huge to already have that in place. It makes my job a lot easier and gives us a real sense of direction. First, I think I need to get a solid understanding of the city dynamics.”
Davis began his career as a special constable with the Halton-Norfolk Regional Police, moving onto Six Nations Police in 1994.
“It’s the largest reserve in Canada based on population — 20,000 on our band list. It was a good foundation for learning the application of the law because we had a wide diversity of crime — from major organized crime groups to stuff you’d see in a small town.”
Davis played a role with NAPS, overseeing policing in remote communities north of Sioux Lookout before working with the RCMP and returning to Six Nations Police Force.
“It was incredible because I really learned quickly the different dynamics in those (remote) communities,” he said. “You could see the high school kids that who would leave for Thunder Bay or other communities and how there was a potential for some kids to get tangled up in the wrong activities, be it drugs, alcohol or being recruited for gangs. My experiences with the Ojibway and Oji-Cree really helped me have an understanding of the issues as they present themselves here. It’s good timing.”
Davis’ more recent work has leaned heavily towards criminal intelligence efforts into organized crime and gangs — an aspect to policing that he says he keeps close ties to. He says the joint efforts between regional police, like the recent ‘Project Ghost’ have made some headway against a nationwide epidemic of prescription drug abuse and trafficking.
“Even when I was in the south, I was privy to what was going on in northwestern Ontario. I think it gives me a good understanding. All of the officers are very knowledgeable and the community members have been incredible at offering advice and insight. It’s a community that seems to want to work with the police, whereas I’ve worked in other communities where they won’t engage with the police. I’m looking forward to this because everything seems so positive.”
Keeping youth engaged in productive activities is one legacy of former chief MacKinnon’s that Davis says he supports fully.
Davis is also a fan of foot patrols.
“I’ve seen the benefits of foot patrols — getting out there in the community, talking with local merchants,” he says. “You can’t put a price on that. As policing changes and police services move away from foot patrols you start losing that firsthand contact with the community.”
By Chris Marchand