Outgoing Repentigny police director bequeaths openness to change

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Outgoing Repentigny police director bequeaths openness to change

Helen Dion is retiring after having spent the last 12 years at the head of the Police Department of the City of Repentigny.

When she was sworn in as a police officer in Saint-Hyacinthe in 1990, Helen Dion had to wear the used uniform of a male colleague because no female uniform was available.

When the director made me do my swearing in, he saw that I was floating in my clothes. Quickly, he sent me to a store to be made to measure, recalls Helen Dion, who last Friday ended 32 years of police career, including the last 12 at the head of the police. Repentigny police.

The change in the police, she considers to have been part of it from the start.

Refusal of male colleagues to be paired with her on patrol, disbelieving citizens when she showed up to answer a call, the new retiree had to cash in a ton of misconceptions and unconscious biases.

That's still today's debate, she argues. We are often afraid of change, of differences, the fear of the other.

Helen Dion claims to have been part of the change in this business from the start.

Aver the past few years, the Repentigny police have made headlines for cases of racial profiling reported by racialized citizens.

Among other things, the police organization she led until recently was strongly criticized by the Black Citizens Group of Repentigny after 8 young black people received tickets totaling $11,500 in the wake of the first wave of COVID-19.

In 2018, a $200,000 lawsuit was also filed against Repentigny police to denounce racial profiling.

In the wake of the complaints, Helen Dion turned in November 2020 to the UENA Agency, which specializes in corporate governance in terms of social inclusion, in order to transform the practices of its police organization.

We made a diagnosis of our ways of doing things, how to improve. And we worked cross-functionally across the whole organization. We made sure to recognize the unconscious biases and to understand them in our relations with the population, she mentions.

“It is the citizens who pay for the services they are given. They have the right to express their dissatisfaction. They told us. I took that literally.

—Helen Dion, outgoing Repentigny Police Director

Have there been any arrests? Certainly, that's our job. It's our job to do that, says Ms. Dion, who has long been assigned to criminal investigations at the Quebec City police, without hesitation. I was trained at the time to do this, criminal profiling. By the way, we work with that: the profile. What kind of person can commit this or that crime.

“Racial profiling and criminal profiling are very close. The policeman must be aware of not falling into the other. He must be aware of certain unconscious biases in his interventions.

— Helen Dion, outgoing Repentigny Police Director

Helen Dion believes that change is part of being a police officer. Manners change. The demands on the police too.

At the time, I'm going to talk to you in the 1990s, it was the Hells Angels who were doing big crime. I can tell you that everyone who rode a Harley Davidson, with tattoos and long hair, had a good chance of being stopped by the police to get checked, she says.

Crime today has changed. She transforms. The police have adapted their methods. They make arrests by virtue of the criminality that has been demonstrated to us.

Racial profiling in Repentigny is a fact, according to researchers from UQAM and UdeM.

According the UENA Agency, which specializes in corporate governance for social inclusion, the Repentigny police have made giant strides in two years.

To date, the agency, which works with government departments, agencies and corporations, says Director Helen Dion is the only one to have turned to an independent firm to transform a police organization. /p>

According to the agency, this is an unprecedented approach in Quebec.

The organizational changes were able to materialize, because there was a will from the leadership and the police base, says Shahad Salman, senior adviser at UENA.

“Simply providing training is not enough to break down unconscious biases. It's long term. And it's the commitment we made with the Repentigny police that will be made over several years to obtain results that will last. »

— Shahad Salman, Senior Advisor at UENA Agency

Shahad Salman has been working for two years to change the policing practices of the Repentigny police to make them more inclusive of cultural communities.

Beyond changing the approach to cultural communities, UENA also participated in the electrification plan for the patrol car fleet, by 2030, and in the implementation of an intervention plan for people struggling with mental health issues.

We would have really liked to continue with Ms. Dion. But with the changes that are underway, we knew that it would not be possible to make them happen with him, because they will take more than five years to put in place. On an individual level, our experience with her has been very pleasant and positive, says Ms. Salman.

Helen Dion does not hesitate to make a strong plea in favor of the work of her police officers and deplores the way they are sometimes treated. From his point of view, the intimidation that targets the police has become a reality.

I have had this experience myself. I myself intercepted someone on the way out of a town council that had made no mandatory stops on Iberville. He received me with his phone and his camera well aligned in the face, she says. My police officers experience this on a daily basis. Me, I experienced it once. It is clear that he did not contest his ticket.

At a time when police forces are experiencing a shortage of relief to fill retirements, the outgoing director is concerned about the difficulty of attracting young people to the profession.

I hope that we will end up attracting young people from the next generations from cultural communities to adopt the police profile. In Repentigny, that represents 20% of the population. If I could interest a percentage of these young people in the profession, I would be very happy, says Ms. Dion.

The black population of Repentigny often complains about its police department. The Haitian-born community represents 8,000 of the city's 84,000 citizens.

As for racial profiling, she says she leaves office with peace of mind having made decisions to challenge her organization and improve.

It was lived hard in the police ranks in Repentigny. 80% of my approximately 125 officers live within the territory of the City. When they finish their day, their children play soccer with the local community, she said.

She also invites the population to do the same introspection on the place to be given to young police officers who will fill retirements and find themselves under public criticism.

Today, the public expects public institutions to be perfect . But they never will be, because they are made up of human beings, she concludes.

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