Q&A: Gary Conn, Chatham-Kent’s retiring top cop, reflects on his policing career

Gary Conn has held many posts since joining the newly amalgamated Chatham-Kent Police Service in 1998, through the ranks first to deputy chief, then to chief nine years ago

Gary Conn has held many posts since joining the newly amalgamated Chatham-Kent Police Service in 1998, through the ranks first to deputy chief, then to chief nine years ago.

Advertisement 2

Article content

He announced Thursday he will retire next Friday and hand the reins to Deputy Chief Kirk Earley.

We spoke with Chief Conn about his career in policing and the changes he’s witnessed over the years.

Here is that conversation, which has been edited for length.

Q: Why such short notice in announcing retirement? Many people in public leadership positions typically announce it months in advance.

HAS: It can vary from person to person, but in my case, we wanted to finish the process as to who my successor would be and . . . announce both together. We have a lot of entities to work with, including the police services board, because ultimately, the board makes the decision as to hire a chief and deputy chief. It really came down to just wanting to announce it both at the same time.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Q: Following the appointment of the late John Kopinak as first chief of amalgamated Chatham-Kent Police Service, every chief since then has been promoted from within the ranks following serving as deputy chief. . . Is that a built-in succession plan of the police service?

HAS: Ideally, that is the case. You want to professionally develop your people so that any given time, they are properly prepared to accept more responsibility. Then create a more seamless transition for them into supervisory, management and, eventually, a leadership position. We have promoted from within the ranks, which is really testament to the professional development of our own people and respected succession planning.

Q: You began your career (as a) military. . . officer, so what attracted you to the policing profession?

Advertisement 4

Article content

HAS: I’ve always been fascinated with the military and policing. I went into the military, although short-lived, it was a great career. . . but my priorities changed somewhat when I got married and had children. You want to settle down more. Policing is a calling, it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation. For most of us, being a police officer is not what we are, it’s who we are.

Q: What do you feel have been some of the marks you have left on the Chatham-Kent Police Service as chief?

HAS: Any achievements are not mine alone; they are testament to the collective efforts of every member of the . . . service. There have been a multitude of initiatives, advancements in technology and equipment to better prepare our officers. Some of those successes that resonate with me start with improvements to our memberships’ health and wellness. I’ve always recognized that the most valuable asset of our organization is our people. We’ve been successful negotiating enhanced supports and services for our members certainly in respect to counseling and mental wellness benefits. We’ve seen in an increase in cognitive injuries. . . operational stress injuries. Other achievements include increasing and supporting gender and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) inclusion within our service. We have seen an increase in female officers going from a representation of approximately 12 per cent, today we are at 22 to 23 per cent. In respect to ethnic diversity, in 2015 we had less than one per hundred and today we are over eight per cent in . . . our rank and file. Another initiative was the development and implementation of (close circuit television) for downtown core areas across Chatham-Kent. Championing the Deloitte Staffing and Operations Resource Analysis that resulted in an increase of 43 full-time employees, both sworn and civilian, is another success. We want to try get more boots on the ground so we can provide better and more services to our community. As a result of the new hires and additional grant funding, we’ve been able to create specialty units. . . including human trafficking, vulnerable persons auto theft sections, . . . a forensic polygraph examiner and a lease compliance apprehension unit. . . . (On) a broader scale, . . . the new Community Safety and Policing Act that went into effect April 1. . . was a major change with its regulations. . . designed to support a modernized and sustainable framework for policing in Ontario. It’s provided modernized language and more regulated training and equipment. The act also expands the statutory duties of special sonstables that will assist police services immensely.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges while serving as chief?

HAS: There have been a multitude of contemporary policing issues and challenges that we’ve had to deal with over the years. The first one that came to mind was the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and having to work through that. Some other issues are the opioid crisis and social inequities including people suffering from mental health issues, addictions, poverty and homelessness. We as police have never been. . . experts in those particular areas, but we end up being the default in having to respond to these calls for service. These issues weren’t as prevalent 20 or 30 years ago as they are today, but we are working in collaboration with the subject matter experts to mitigate these issues. Another unique challenge in recent years is politically driven movements, such as defund the police and the negative perception. . . (of) our profession. We’ve got to do a better job of rebranding and remarketing. . . (so) newer generations will consider our vocation as a profession.

Q: As an advocate of life-long learning, having earned a master’s degree in public education and an (education doctorate), . . . do you have plans to pursue other opportunities in the future?

HAS: At this time, I’m just going to decompress a bit. I’m going to reassess, regroup and spend some quality time with my family, including three new grandparents. What the next chapter holds, we shall see.

[email protected]

Article content