Algoma University and the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service came together Wednesday night to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will see the University offer an educational training program, called Shifting Indigenous Frontline Tactics, to all local police personnel.
The idea of this training program is to bridge the gap between police services and Indigenous communities by encouraging an environment of greater cultural understanding and sensitivity towards Indigenous peoples and communities. Under the supervision of local elders and community members, SHIFT aims to effect positive change within the Sault, while promoting safe interactions between police and Indigenous peoples.
Sault Ste. Marie Police Chief Hugh Stevenson told SaultOnline that he’s happy to have the opportunity to show the community that this is the direction of the police service.
Stevenson said both the board and the community are aware of the fact that there are going to be performance measures in place. These include tracking changes in attitudes, changes in understanding and changes in relationships.
“To me, as Chief of Police, it’s all about the relationships with our community,” he explained. “And I think we always have to step back and say ‘what can we do to improve it?’ Not centre on the past, but centre on the future and reduce that gap.”
He explained that the way it’s set up gives the opportunity to refine it as they go, to learn what works, what works better, and as the template is developed, it can potentially be used this across the province for other services that want to build the relationships and reduce those gaps between the policing world and the Indigenous community in other communities in Ontario.
Stevenson said he thinks this is a good way for the police force to show that they’re open to understanding and listening to the needs of the community.
“We’re willing to reduce any gaps that are existing in our relationships,” he explained. “And as those gaps get reduced, everyone benefits from a more positive, honest relationship.”
Joe Tom Sayers, Director of Annishaabe Initiatives at Algoma U, told SaultOnline he was heavily involved in developing and delivering this four-day pilot training program. He said the program will involve a cultural approach to learning.
“We’re going to employ traditional ways of learning and teaching, creating a safe environment for the participants, making sure everybody understands that they all have not only a responsibility to learn, but also to support each other in terms of learning about the historic trauma that Indigenous people have faced, as well as a way forward,” he explained.
He said he thinks this is an important way to strengthen the relationship between the police service and the Indigenous community, and for the community at large.
Sayers commended the police force for being proactive in reaching out to the University, as well as for their foresight, and the community for embracing this challenge and responding to it in a positive way. He said he thinks there is a lot to learn for both the police force and the Indigenous community.
The University will involve and engage the Indigenous community and other identified partners in the ongoing development of the SHIFT curriculum, facilitating instruction both on and off-campus.
The SSMPS are contributing $30,000 to the development and piloting of the program for the 2018-2019 year. The pilot class will take place in November with approximately 18 people, with the full program to start in the spring of 2019.