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Graham puts badge away for the last time

Jamie Graham - File photo
Jamie Graham
— image credit: File photo

Jamie Graham thumbs through emails on a Blackberry from across the table, his brow furrowing as he scans the screen.

"There is no retirement anymore," said Graham, just days before stepping down as chief constable of the Victoria Police Department.

On Dec. 19, Graham quietly left VicPD after five years at the helm to make way for incoming Chief Const. Frank Elsner. It marks his third retirement from policing in a 43-year career (he also served as head of the RCMP's Surrey detachment – the biggest in Canada – and then as chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department).

He leaves VicPD as it struggles with increased budget constraints, the continued turbulence of a forced policing merger with Esquimalt and the high crime burden of core-city syndrome. And while he's had some success curtailing those issues, Graham admits he's created his own controversy on occasion with his verbal shoot-from-the-hip style of communication.

"If I don't agree with something, I'm quite vocal about disagreeing," he said.

Graham left the Vancouver Police Department in 2007 under much less auspicious circumstances, being investigated by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner for his lack of co-operation with a 2003 investigation into police brutality in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

He also made headlines for leaving a bullet-riddled shooting range target on the desk of Vancouver's city manager in 2006; and for openly supporting the creation of Insite, a supervised injection facility and needle exchange on the Downtown Eastside.

"I don't necessarily agree with what goes on on the main floor (of Insite), but upstairs, the treatment level is absolutely remarkable. They're really making a difference," he said.

Graham's had low points in Victoria as well leaving his gun inside his unmarked police car, and suggesting that a group of anti-Olympic protesters had been infiltrated by an undercover police officer in 2009.

"Whether or not there was any outing of an officer, who knows. I never was briefed, didn't know, still don't to this day. But you never talk about (undercover) operations, even in jest. So that was the mistake," he said.

Yet his aggressive defence of police officers and direct leadership style have won Graham accolades among the rank-and-file, most recently in his advocacy for expanded uses of automated licence plate-scanning technology. Last December, he publicly clashed with B.C.'s privacy commissioner on how mass information is collected, stored and flagged using the cruiser-mounted system.

"There's no way the police can do any nefarious activity. Everything is scrutinized by every level," he said. "ALPR is great technology. Eventually, you'll see it in every officer's handheld device."

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said working with Graham has been a privilege over their five-year tenure together, and he commended Graham for making needed improvements to VicPD jail cells, as well as strides made in restorative justice.

"I think this is the one piece that says the most to me:  under Chief Graham’s leadership, Victoria’s crime-severity index dropped 26 per cent," Fortin said. "Efforts like Late Night Great Night and crime-reduction strategies like the current focus on prolific offenders have helped make that happen."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins called Graham a "strong leader" who entered a challenging environment at VicPD.

"(Graham) never backed away from a challenge and certainly sometimes we wished he wasn’t walking into them," Desjardins said. "He has brought many up and coming police leaders forward through the promotion process, and he sold the need for more officers to the communities he was in charge of. Not an easy feat."

Graham wouldn't comment on his legacy at VicPD, but said he's most proud of the promotions made to the executive, which include all fresh faces from when he arrived in 2009. He's also glad to leave a police department with stronger morale than when he began, when former Chief Const. Paul Battershill left the department after an affair with a police board lawyer.

"When I started, the organization was going through some challenging times, that's now behind us," Graham said.  "We don't have the problems of a bigger organization, the communication gaps. I've got seven inspectors, and VPD has about 35. … The people in our command roles are battle-tested, they know the issues on the street and they're highly educated, so they get it."

Graham's frequent criticism of the Capital Region's patchwork policing model is likely to continue in incoming Chief Elsner, the Twitter-savvy, community-minded chief from Sudbury, Ont.

In the meantime, Graham plans to focus on his passion for antique cars, travel with his wife and possibly find a second career in the civilian world.

"Everybody is coming to Victoria, this is where people want to live. So this will be a base no matter what we do."

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