Leading from the heart

October 25, 2012
Raina Delisle
Eric Jolliffe

When York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe travelled to Egypt to explore how the country was working to combat youth violence, he learned an important lesson that has greatly impacted how he leads: Not all communities trust the police.

With Ontario’s diverse York Region projected to grow to a 63-per-cent immigrant population by 2030 (it is currently 54 per cent), Jolliffe says it’s important to understand how other communities view the police, which is largely informed by how the police are viewed in their homeland.

When Jolliffe was in Egypt in 2009, he and his colleges met with the national executive director for women’s rights. She didn’t want to speak with them because they were police, and only did so because her organization is funded by the Canadian International Development Fund. Her stories of police brutality on youth shocked Jolliffe and set the stage for the next day’s meeting with the brigadier general of the Egyptian national police. That three-hour meeting with the brigadier general and his 40 generals, conducted entirely through a translator, went well until Jolliffe asked about youth violence. The brigadier general turned to his generals and exploded in Arabic before saying to Jolliffe, in perfect English, “Sir, we have no problem in that area whatsoever.” The visit to Egypt was capped with one of Jolliffe’s colleagues being bribed by a police officer at the airport; the Egyptian officer threatened to keep the Canadian officer’s bag if he didn’t pay.  

“What I got from that (experience in Egypt) is that police are brutal, corrupt and extensions of the government,” says Jolliffe, who committed then and there to ensuring the diverse communities he serves know they can trust the York Regional Police.

Jolliffe’s commitment to connecting with immigrant populations led him to Royal Roads University, where he earned his MA in Leadership and did his major project on enhancing York Regional Police (YRP) Service’s relationship with minority communities. His research revealed the police force needs to have broader-based community engagement strategies, educate both police and community members, address police culture and engage members at all levels of the organization.

In December 2010 – in the midst of completing his MA in Leadership – Jolliffe was appointed to chief and has since implemented a number of his recommendations. For his commitment to engaging the immigrant population and designing a one-of-a-kind police leadership program, Jolliffe was awarded the inaugural Royal Roads University Alumni Leadership Award. He was nominated for the award by York Regional Deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, also a graduate of the MA in Leadership program, and the nomination was supported by associate faculty members Phil Cady and Beth Page.

“As a graduate of the Master of Arts in Leadership program, I have had the opportunity to observe Chief Jolliffe actively apply his learning by modelling the way, leading from the heart, instilling a commitment to a shared vision and values, applying systems thinking, inspiring and empowering others to act, having the courage to challenge the status quo and initiate organizational change that provides the highest quality of policing services to the most culturally diverse community in all of Canada,” Carrique says.

Indeed, Jolliffe says the two main things he wants to accomplish as chief are to change the culture of his community and change the culture of his police service. When he became leader of the YRP, the organization had six values. An important one was missing, but Jolliffe has since changed that by adding “people” to the list. “I strongly believe that if you live your values, they’ll show,” he says, adding that he spends a lot of time connecting with his 2,100 members by attending training sessions and speaking about what’s important to the community. In the past, Jolliffe says, decisions were made in the chief’s office, but he is committed to engaging his team in dialogue and discussion around making change in the organization.

Jolliffe demonstrated his commitment to putting his people first when he faced the ultimate challenge for a police chief – the death of an officer in the line of duty. On June 28, 2011, Garrett Styles pulled over a minivan, which drove away while he was at its side, dragging him 300 metres before hitting a ditch and rolling on top of him. He was only 32-years-old and left behind a wife, a civilian member of YRP, and two young children.

“People expect the chief of police to be strong and stoic,” Jolliffe says. “It was a significant defining moment in that I felt I needed to tell it the way I saw it and how I felt from my heart. I did that and I could see significant change in the organization in terms of seeing a chief of police in a very different light – someone who leads from the heart.”

Jolliffe’s stand for his team didn’t stop there. When the media broadcast the radio transmission of Styles’ dying words, Jolliffe challenged the ethics and took on the media. His actions culminated in an Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police campaign, currently underway, to garner provincewide support from all emergency service providers and advocate for changes to legislation that would protect the integrity and security of police radio transmissions.

“That was a significant turning point,” Jolliffe says. “Knowing that I had to stand up for the members of the police service and set the record straight … not only for Garrett, and not only his family, but other victims across this country.”

“Eric’s integrity, humanity, authenticity and his personal accountability make him a strong leader,” says associate faculty member Beth Page. “Eric is a leader and a learner who brings a level of heart to his leadership that is lacking in many senior positions today. I am proud of Eric and his leadership and know that he is a force for inclusion and humanity in the highly diverse York Region.”