Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City police force's spiritual guide

Chaplain says taking role was truly God's will

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He's an exceptional officer by any standards: one who immigrated to Canada from Harmony Vale, Jamaica, at the age of 12 and later joined the police to show his nephews stereotypes about black men were wrong.

Today, Supt. Devon Clunis is not only one of the highest-ranking officers at the Winnipeg Police Service but also the chaplain who guides hundreds of officers through their careers.

Clunis is well-known to the rank and file for his role at weddings, graduation ceremonies and funerals. He's also the man leading development support, a newly coined phrase that covers areas like the WPS Training Academy. (He's also known to reporters for the giant portrait of him hanging in the Public Safety Building media briefing room, which was donated to the WPS by the artist.)

 

-- On why he became the chaplain of the WPS 12 years ago:

"Obviously if I'm a chaplain, I believe there's a God, and I absolutely believe the job as chaplain was a God-directed initiative," he said. Clunis was driving to his job as a school resource officer and listening to CJOB, after an airliner went down.

"People were calling in and saying 'There cannot be a God because what God would allow this to happen?'...so I'm driving along in my vehicle, I had a little prayer just with myself to God, saying, 'You know, I wish you'd put me in a place in our police service where one day I will just have the opportunity to stand up and tell people there's a God who truly cares, and he's weeping with all these people who have lost their loved ones."

Three weeks later, an officer he hadn't met approached Clunis in the Public Safety Building about the chaplaincy. He went home and consulted with his wife and father-in-law.

"(I) said yes, and I've never looked back," he said.

"It's been one of the most fulfilling parts of my entire career."

 

-- On how he gives guidance to officers:

"Really, one of the most integral parts is just simply being there to have those informal conversations with people," he said. "Somebody will simply come into your office, they're having some real difficulties, whether it be family, or medical issues, and they will say: 'Would you pray for me?'

And I say, 'Absolutely, let's do it right now.' "

In the WPS, he notes the chaplain is an officer and not an outside representative, which he thinks it makes it "much easier" for others to open up about faith. "Police officers, it's not easy oftentimes for us to trust, so it has to be somebody who you know fully understands your job," he said. He went to New York City after 9/11 to help officers there, an experience that left him with a "profound impression."

"Who's going to take care of the caregivers?," he said, adding there are ongoing emotional impacts in officers' work and they need support.

 

-- On why he became a police officer almost 24 years ago:

"I remember watching television and always seeing, you know what, the black guys are always in the back of the cruiser car, they're always the bad guys," he said. "And at the time, I had a couple of young nephews and I thought, you need to do something that's going to set an example for them.

"And I looked around, and there were no black police officers but I had great respect for police officers, so I said, let's do something like that, where it's very public, people can see we don't always need to be in the back of the cruiser car. That's why I became a police officer initially."

 

-- On the biggest challenge facing police officers, and beyond:

"I think the biggest challenge facing us is just a slow degradation of some of the societal values, it truly is, and oftentimes people expect the police to be the quick fix to all of that," he said, adding later policing isn't just about "enforcing laws."

"We can't enforce many of the things that are impacting society today." He points to the example of picking up a young child out late at night who's getting into trouble and taking them home to their parents.

In another part of the interview, Clunis said he didn't want to "squander" opportunities his mother created for him by moving to Canada.

"You think the parents in my day and time would be saying, 'Oh thank you so much,' and admonishing that child and letting him know that 'You need to be listening to the authority,'" he said.

"Instead, parents are on you for picking their child up and bringing them home."

 

-- On working in the vice unit, where he said he found working with young women working on the streets "heart-wrenching": "One of the most memorable events in my career is when I received a telephone call from a young lady in Calgary," he said. "She was calling me from Calgary to say, I wanted to let you know that what you said made a difference, I went back home, I'm with my family, and everything is going really well."

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2010 B2

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