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Leading the curve on safe communities

November 21, 2012
Lessons learned at Royal Roads University gave RCMP Sgt. Donovan Tait the courage to implement creative approaches to community safety in the remote First Nations communities he serves.

Sgt. Donovan Tait humanizes police work.

As the commander leading the RCMP detachment for the Nass Valley and Nisga’a Nation, Tait’s approach is empowering and engaging a community in its own safety. That work comes from a belief that police need to connect with people on a more human level, he says.

“We must engage our key people, agencies and services to come to the table and discuss matters of safety. We need to be creative, thoughtful and sensitive. We have to talk to each other,” he says. “People have to see the police as part of the community. We are going to limit ourselves otherwise. RCMP managers should challenge themselves to look outside of the organization to develop their creative side of leadership.”

The desire to do just that led Tait to Royal Roads University, where he recently completed the Graduate Certificate in Leadership and Management. The program gave him courage to introduce new ideas, he says. The resulting impact has not gone unnoticed and Tait was awarded a Crime Prevention and Community Safety Leadership Award from the Ministry of Justice and the BC Crime Prevention Association Nov. 2 – just 11 months into his posting and two days after completing his program. The award recognizes individual efforts to promote safe communities through innovative initiatives.

When Tait arrived at the detachment, the community was struggling with two young prolific offenders who were bootlegging and dealing drugs. Nisga’a Nation’s villages are remote and close knit and the impact of the men’s actions was widespread. Located about one hour north of Terrace, B.C., Nisga’a Nation is made up of four villages – Gingolx, Gitlaxt’aamiks (where Tait lives), Gitwinksihlkw and Laxgalts’ap – with a total population of about 3,000 people.

Tait responded to concerns by asking the village governments how the RCMP could collaborate with them to ensure a sustainable solution. That evolved into an alternative justice forum, where the community worked with its own set of laws, in partnership with the RCMP, to help the offenders see the negative impacts of their actions on the entire community.

“We have a unique opportunity to place the onus back on the offender in a culturally sensitive manner while ensuring that victims are supported and heard. The Nisga’a people have a rich history with an established cultural system of justice that they use informally and everyone knows,” Tait says. “We have blended their system with our Canadian system throughout our enforcement and investigations.”

That approach allows Tait to be a crucial player in the co-ordination of community services and programs, says Andrew Robinson, Laxgalts’ap Village Government chief administrative officer.

“He allows people, through his leadership style, to take a breath and take it in, accept and address the issues of history and bring it to a place where they can provide a sense of understanding to the individual who is going through something in their life,” Robinson says.

Royal Roads inspired him to evolve his approach, Tait says. The program explores leadership and management approaches, particularly in regards to navigating change and motivating people. It also looks at the role of leadership in complex environments and it allowed Tait to explore how interconnected his community truly is.

It also afforded him the insight to slow down. While in the course, Tait implemented a daily routine of leaving his desk to take a short walk outside. It’s like a reset button that allows him to gain better perspective on the tasks of the day, he says. The habit is one instructor Guy Nasmyth was pleased to hear about.

“More and more the research is indicating that our busyness in our organizations is not servicing us. One of the most effective things we can do is mindfully not take action,” Nasmyth says, noting that allows time for better decisions to be made. “Slowing down actually allows us to move faster.”

Effective communication is at the heart of all of the detachment’s good work. Every situation is dealt with individually, with an eye to the context of the community, and that means everything has to be talked out, risked out and explored from different points of view, Tait says.

“(Tait) is a soft spoken, thoughtful, considerate man. He has great ideas and great thinking and he is always ready to discuss different perspectives,” says Nasmyth, noting Tait is a skilled storyteller.

That’s a large part of his success, says Stephanie Lysyk, in-house legal counsel for the Nisga’a Lisims Government. He is able to enact positive change and share those actions in a way that makes people feel safer, she says.

“He takes a much larger approach to the issues and actively seeks out solutions,” Lysyk says. “There is history between the First Nation community and the RCMP and not everyone gets a warm and fuzzy feeling. He is doing a lot to turn that around on a very personal level.”