Chris Lewis
OPP Commissioner
Mar 15, 2011

The Ontario Provincial Police is led by Commissioner Chris Lewis. With a 32-year career behind him (four of these as Deputy Commissioner), Lewis has significantly contributed to the OPP’s history of successful leadership.

In his own words, Commissioner Lewis explains the issues that are important to the police and the public alike, his own leadership challenges, and philosophy to address them.

The Recruitment Challenge
While it might sound like I’m brand new to the responsibilities of this job, the bottom line is that I’ve taken over a department that I was part of leading for the last several years. Under Commissioner Fantino, we had already made a lot of changes, and the organization is moving ahead very well. I will, of course, continue the initiatives that Commissioner Fantino started and in which I took part. The number one challenge I face right now is the leadership of one of the largest of any of the state or provincial police organizations in North America – the California Highway Patrol may be larger, but they just do highway patrol, whereas the OPP provides a multi-level police service.

My biggest challenge is staffing, and there are a number of elements to this. One is succession because a lot of our people are of baby boomer age, like myself, and will soon be moving on to retirement, so we’re going to lose a lot of people over the next few years. We have to refill those gaps from a recruit pool and the 20 to 30 year old members.

New hires these days are largely among Canadians from countries where policing is not necessarily seen as an honourable profession. The average 25-year-old recruit may be from Beijing, have a university degree and now is now considering policing as a career. They go home and tell their mom and dad, who were raised in a very oppressive environment where the police may have shot and killed people in the streets. Mom and Dad may not be all that fussy about the fact that their kids have chosen policing – that’s a challenge for us. It’s also an opportunity for us to hire great people from around the world. Including many cultures and languages into the OPP benefits us because they help us display a more trusted face in the community. At the same time, we have to convince this group of folks that policing is an honourable ­profession and that the OPP is the service they should join.

So, we need more people at a time when governments can least afford it, and at a time when we’re having difficulty just keeping pace, filling the gaps from retirement. To get around that, we require some “out of the box” thinking – I don’t want to hear words like “we always did it this way.” We need to look at innovative ways of doing things… more productive, effective and efficient ways of doing things. So that’s my challenge to all the people in the organization – let’s examine what we’re doing on a constant basis.

More emphasis on prevention is another important way to look at saving resources. If you can spend “x” number of dollars preventing crimes, versus a bigger “y” trying to resolve their consequences, then you get the most bang for your buck. We need to be smart with our resources and conduct our business in a more innovative and cooperative way in the future.

Contact with the Community
Various social service agencies and local communities become involved in our policing work – so we don’t police the community, we police “with” the community. We used to tell communities what they needed, now we work with them to prevent problems and they become a piece of the pie that looks at solving the problems as they occur, and we have to respond. It’s a multi-tiered solution and that’s not what we thought 30 years ago.

We all have limited resources and yet, at times, we will have to deal with a case like that of Russell Williams, and then you have to reassign people, so the other stuff ends up falling off a little bit. But, generally speaking, we now know that cooperation can save lives and solve crimes. That case of the tragedy around Russell Williams and his victims is a really good example of working together – Belleville Police had a piece of that, we had a piece of it, there were implications for National Defence and their investigative group because of the position he held, and one of the victims was from the Canadian Forces, and then it got into the City of Ottawa because that’s where he and his wife lived and where the warrants were executed. So you have two municipal agencies, the OPP, and the Military Police all working together to put that man away. It’s a great example of the breaking down of silos. We all applied the resources and information that we had, and we pulled together a case and put him away. That’s what it’s all about.

Traditionally we’ve had silos that did not necessarily want to work with others within the organization. When making decisions, we must consider how they may affect other silos. This requires working together better as an organization and I’m really promoting more leadership transfers between the silos, so that we work more collaboratively just by osmosis.

Organizationally, police departments haven’t always worked well together; that has changed a lot over recent years, and I want to see more of that. I’m very open to the concept and I also try to promote relationships with other agencies, not just police. Whether it be the Ministry of Natural Resources, Canada Border Services Agency, or other public safety agencies, we need to work in collaboration. Also, we need to work with the private sector. Private sector organizations – for example banks and their anti-fraud programs – we need to work closely with them, since they own a piece of this too, and have resources and expertise to help.

A previous Commissioner who retired in 1998, Tom O’Grady, said once at a national meeting that none of us have the expertise or the resources to tackle organized crime on our own. We owe it to the taxpayer – who pays for the municipal police, for the OPP and for the federal policing agencies (the same taxpayer pays for all those things ultimately) – we owe it to them to work together more cooperatively and more effectively.

I was just at a meeting with all the state and provincial police force commanders for North America, and we got talking about all of that… and everybody’s on the same page. And then I was at a meeting with Canadian and U.S. Customs and Immigration, the RCMP and New York State Police, talking about joint issues of drugs and other contraband moving across borders, so we’re moving this ‘working together’ thing to a whole new level and, once again, it’s all in the best interest of taxpayers across multiple jurisdictions.

We’re focused on contraband moving across the border and into Ontario with our counterparts on the U.S. side and Canada. In fact, we have a large task force in Cornwall focused on that problem. We also have highway enforcement teams across the province, watching for the movement of contraband – whether it’s coming out of Quebec or Ontario, moving on highways or out of the States. We have four officers working full time in the United States, two in Detroit and two in Buffalo, as part of what’s called BEST, Border Enforcement Security Task Force teams, run by the U.S. Federal Law Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. We have OPP officers embedded there that are sworn-in as peace officers in the United States. They carry guns and work collaboratively on both sides to make sure that information is flowing and arrests are being made on the right side of the border.

We also have a couple of officers assigned to the RCMP on the Shiprider Program for patrolling the Great Lakes. The Marine Security Enforcement Team is also involved on an international scale.

In terms of the Canadian/U.S. border, the largest unprotected border in the world, there are concerns on both sides. Some U.S. law-makers were being critical of Canada because the open border was resulting in some stuff getting into the U.S., and there are a lot of hand guns coming the other way. At the law enforcement level, from the Director of Homeland Security on down, we’re working really well together. It’s a mutual issue. If we’ve got stuff heading their way, we need to work with them to stop it, and vice versa – and we’re doing it.

Because a lot of our marijuana is heading south and a lot of the cocaine is coming into Canada through the U.S. from South America, Columbia, Mexico and other sources, we’re all working hard to prevent that. It’s interesting too that smugglers, ­traditionally in the Cornwall area, used to come over with boatloads of tobacco and liquor but then they realized they were going back empty. They realized that they should have something – marijuana, for example – to haul back into the U.S. to make the trip pay off.

Community Countering Terrorism
On September 11th, 2001, the world changed. That day taught us the need to apply the intelligence-led, joint forces concept, working together on terrorism, and it transcends all we do.

We need to look at local crime issues by working together as well. If you’re ­handling break and enters in one city area, they’re likely doing them in neighbouring communities too. The criminals don’t stop at the city border and say, “we can’t go into that jurisdiction; it’s not in my mandate.” They don’t care. Wherever there’s money, they’re going to work. So it transcends municipal, provincial and national boundaries. It’s an international problem and we need to work collaboratively at the local level and spread that out on all issues – terrorism , organized crime and local policing.

The Toronto 18 were doing their training about 10 miles from here. They were training with firearms and operations in fields up there. Some of that was reported to us by local community members. Our people started looking into it and talking to the RCMP, and ultimately, we worked together to put those guys away.

It’s a valid point too that, when you look at Timothy McVeigh, the home-grown domestic terrorist in the United States who blew up the buildings in Oklahoma, he got stopped by a traffic cop – that’s how he got caught. So, our front line people are really paramount in the fight against terrorism. It’s the front line people who are in touch with the community. If they are doing their job and the community trusts and knows them, the community will say there’s something weird going on over there, and the police can get onto it. They’ll start watching it and they’ll pass it on to our investigative units who will work with them to try and find out more, gather intelligence, work with other agencies and ultimately take these guys down.

We’re providing more training and information to our front lines, to help them understand what they need to look for, with a view to establishing that trust within the communities. If you’ve got a good relationship with your local communities, the local police officer will get information from the farmer down the road. If they don’t trust the police, they may not tell them anything. That’s how we got to know about the training activities of the Toronto 18. That’s the way it should be – local crime, orga­nized crime, and terrorism – all three threats. It’s all about trust. If the public doesn’t trust us, they won’t report things to us.

Looking Ahead at Leadership
There are things we can do better because times change, technology changes and so we need to keep current and constantly look for ways to be more effective and ­efficient.

In future we won’t stop the presses and fold our tents for a year while we make changes; we need to be constantly looking at how to progress and make adjustments on the go.

What’s required is that our people are open to change and open to doing things differently by getting a better bang for the buck… and we are doing that.

We need to keep the momentum going. We’ve made a lot of positive change and need to keep that going. We need an open mindset but, in fact, we also need more resources and that’s the challenge that I have as the leader: to make sure we get what we need to service 9,000 staff in 350 communities.

Overall, I think what’s really key in law enforcement and public safety all around, whether it be fire, paramedics or other emergency service, is strong leadership. No organization, even ones with all the money and all the great people in the world, is going to survive without strong leadership from top to bottom and, when budgets are tight, as they are now, the leadership is all that more important.

We need to develop leaders, promote leaders and support leaders from top to bottom that always make decisions that are best for the client. What’s the best thing for the community, not what’s good for our own personal agendas? We need leaders who will take risks, always erring on the side of what’s the best thing for the people that we’re serving to keep safe. The people do come first; that’s who we’re sworn to protect. Then we have to protect each other. We have to look after each other and we need strong leadership to make sure it all happens consistently, and always for the right reason, that being the protection of the communities we are sworn to serve.

© FrontLine Security 2011