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Gender balance at Oak Bay police a symptom of a healthier department

New Chief Mark Fisher takes the reins of a department that has seen barriers fall
Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch, Chief Ray Bernoties, left, new Oak Bay Police Deputy Chief Julie Chanin and Acting Chief Mark Fisher during Chanin’s official swearing in on June 21 at municipal hall. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

On his last day in office police chief Ray Bernoties took to Twitter to praise new leadership in Oak Bay. Deputy Chief Julie Chanin smashed that glass ceiling, as Oak Bay Police Department hit 50 per cent female in its management (chief is male), and despite being down a sergeant as Chanin was promoted from within, the department remains roughly 50-50.

This congratulatory tweet was far from Bernoties’ first reference to removing barriers at the department. It’s a conversation he’s held online and in person for years.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay names next deputy chief, first female in Greater Victoria policing leadership

It is a result of the concerted effort to recruit more female officers, said Chief Mark Fisher. Officers such as Chanin and retired Const. Sheri Lucas were among the biggest champions of the cause leading to more women applying to the department, which resulted in more being hired. Their skillsets meant more were promoted.

While those early ambassadors of the department and policing style created more of a buzz in women looking at policing, internal systems were creating barriers for all genders, Bernoties said.

An example of removing barriers was the sergeants’ round table. When looking at promotions, one of the tools used included sergeants of the department openly discussing their peers.

READ ALSO: Greater Victoria police chief popular on Twitter announces impending retirement

The repercussions included divides and people left with hard feelings, leaving capable officers not wanting to compete. Now an independent human resources expert interviews sergeants with an emphasis on values, while allowing for conflicts of interest to surface to the chief, without hardship and bias. It allows sergeants to continue to be consulted, in a safe way for everyone involved.

“Internally our culture is much healthier,” Bernoties said.

That’s across the board.

The department is healthier, agreed Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch, who serves as chair of the police board.

He credits the positive changes to the last three police chiefs, dating back to Andy Brinton, when Bernoties was deputy, to the latest Fisher who takes over from Bernoties.

It’s also a testament to the type of policing Oak Bay strives for – community policing. It’s an approach often overlooked, but no different from any other specialized approach, Murdoch said.

Fisher argues it could be harder than some.

“You’re seeing people repeatedly. Ownership of issues you’re trying to solve is greater,” Fisher said. That builds a higher sense of accountability both from the community, and the officer themselves. But there’s also more resolution, as in a community policing focus, cops frequently get to be in on the solution or resolution of a problem solved.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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