Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New top cop's weapon: prayer

City councillors react with caution to ex-chaplain's comments

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Devon Clunis used an interview with a Winnipeg-based Christian newsmagazine to tell Winnipeggers he isn't going to be your typical chief of police.

It was no secret Clunis had been a chaplain with the Winnipeg Police Service for 14 years, but he made national headlines with his comments about harnessing the power of prayer to fight violent crime in the city.

"What would happen if we all just truly -- I'm talking about all religious stripes here -- started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" Clunis is quoted in an Oct. 11 story in ChristianWeek. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city."

Clunis opened up even further, saying he believes God had a role in his climb up the ranks of the police service over the past 25 years. Clunis told the magazine while he didn't ask God to make him police chief, he did pray to become a successful leader who treats people with dignity and respect.

"God still cares, He's still involved in our lives," Clunis is quoted as saying. "And I believe without a shadow of a doubt, the only reason that I am in this position is because God is involved in it. Without a shadow of a doubt."

Clunis was announced as the city's next police chief at a news conference Oct. 4. He declined then to say how he was going to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Keith McCaskill, but few would have guessed Clunis's faith would soon be featured in such a public fashion.

Clunis would not return calls from the Free Press about his comments.

The news story drew reaction from critics and supporters, ranging from those who questioned his ability to keep the top-cop job, to those who said his faith was irrelevant to his duties.

City councillors Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre), who represent some of Winnipeg's more crime-affected neighbourhoods, said they're prepared to give Clunis the benefit of the doubt.

"He's obviously a spiritual guy. Prayer can bring people together. I'm taking (his comments) with the symbolism behind it," Pagtakhan said.

But Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who also represents crime-affected neighbourhoods, said it's clear Clunis faces a steep learning curve when it comes to public relations. Eadie nonetheless described Clunis as a capable officer and said he understood what he was trying to say, even if the point about prayer was made clumsily.

"From a Winnipeg Police Service perspective, this is not a solution. However, as I always say to religious organizations in my ward, if praying and getting involved in the church is a way out of addictions, I'm all for that."

Community leaders who supported Clunis's appointment as chief at the beginning of the month continue to stand behind him.

Shahina Siddiqui, president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association Inc. -- Canada, said she believes Clunis was trying to reach out to the city's faith-based groups and non-believers alike.

"Prayer, for people of faith, literally means you are seeking guidance," Siddiqui said, adding she believes Clunis wants everyone in the city to come together to consider how best to deal with crime.

"He's not asking every police officer to make a prayer before going out onto the street. He's saying to the community, 'Let's come together.' "

North Point Douglas activist Sel Burrows said Clunis should not be dismissed because of his comments, adding many faith-based organizations have been successful in overcoming inner-city problems.

Trevor Berg, pastor at the Grace Point Church in North Point Douglas, said most Canadians would find it unusual for a senior civic official to disclose his faith in such a public fashion, but added he agrees with Clunis. "Even if you're not religious, if you think about peaceful things and you put action behind your peaceful thoughts, of course it will make a difference in this city," Berg said.

Phil Sheegl, who led the committee in charge of hiring Winnipeg's new police chief, said in a statement he stands by the city's choice but will not comment on Clunis's comments.

City council protection chairwoman Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo), who quit the hiring committee over differences with Sheegl, said she is less concerned about Clunis's comments about prayer than how well he keeps the city safe and reduces crime.

"He has a sense of spirituality and a certain focus and that's fine, but that's not how he will be judged," she said.

All that matters is whether Clunis collars criminals -- not whether he wears a collar, added St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding.

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin expressed concern about the idea of prayer as a crime-fighting tool.

"You have to welcome a more enlightened approach to criminal-justice issues, but if anyone thinks the power of prayer alone is going to make our streets safer, they're deluded," Martin said via telephone from Ottawa. "Our crime rates are more a function of chronic, long-term poverty than they are a paucity of faith and religion."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

What was said in the article

EXCERPTS from the ChristianWeek story, New police chief: prayer will play a role in reducing violent crime

-- "I'm a little tired of us... being '(the) murder capital of Canada,' " says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. "People consistently say, 'How are you going to solve that?' It's not simply going to be because we're going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that.

"What would happen if we all just truly -- I'm talking about all religious stripes here -- started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" he adds. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it's coming. I don't think I've arrived at this position just by chance."

-- Clunis attributes his success to God. He says he has never asked God to make him a powerful person, but rather he has prayed that God make him a leader who treats people with dignity and respect and who is successful in his endeavours.

-- Clunis says at the end of the day, he just wants to give of himself to help the community.

-- "God still cares, He's still involved in our lives," Clunis says, "and I believe without a shadow of a doubt the only reason that I am in this position is because God is involved in it. Without a shadow of a doubt."

The original ChristianWeek story is available here:

http://www.christianweek.org/stories.php?id2145

video player to use on WFP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2012 A3

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