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The PHILOSOPHER chief Blog of the week: The Power of Words

Devon Clunis has the vision and the ability to inspire. Does he have the support?

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"Ask not what your city can do for you, ask what you can do for your city."

That's the first thing that came to my mind after sitting through a keynote address delivered by newly promoted police Chief Devon Clunis.

Clunis delivered the speech Jan. 10 at the annual Crime Prevention Breakfast hosted by Mike Cook, president of the Manitoba Criminal Justice Association.

The event is attended by a wide cross-section of professionals who range from senior Crown attorneys to executive members of the police service to judges, lawyers, politicians, staff from probation services, corrections, Child and Family Services and members of Winnipeg's corporate community.

The theme of the event centres on public safety and public safety issues.

Who better to deliver the keynote address than a new police chief who has yet to share the nuts and bolts of his vision for our crime-ridden city?

Having known Clunis for almost 26 years, I knew the speech would be inspirational. What I didn't know is if it would contain much in the way of a reality-based vision. Philosophy in policing is a wonderful thing, but it is meaningless unless it is followed up by action.

Skeptics worry that Clunis sees the world through rose-coloured glasses, is short on front-line experience and is oblivious to the realities of a crime-ridden city.

So what's the vision?

As he addressed the crowd of some 300 people, Clunis politely asked attendees to resist the temptation to laugh as he shared his vision: "My purpose is to change the world," he said.

A brief period of awkward silence ensued and, sure enough, a few muffled giggles could be heard in the crowd.

Clunis acknowledged the giggles and went on to explain how, as a young Jamaican boy raised in a small rural town in a house with no electricity, he believed that anything is possible.

It was an elegant journey that climaxed with an improbable promotion to chief of police and ended with a determined vision to create a "culture of safety" in the city of Winnipeg.

Clunis acknowledged Winnipeg currently holds the unenviable titles of murder and violent crime capital of Canada, but stressed these titles don't define a community that is also known for its generosity.

In his mind, Winnipeg has the potential to become one of the safest communities in the nation. I assure you these are not just words to Clunis, it's a strong belief.

So how do we get there?

"Focus more on prevention and community involvement, crime prevention through social development," he stressed.

Clunis suggested the need for an inclusive approach and shared his belief the police simply can't do it alone.

"We are not going to arrest these issues away" he said.

Critics will suggest the police are not social workers and can't be all things to all people. The police are responsible for enforcing the laws and not effecting social change. Social change is the mandate of social agencies and government policy.

Au contraire, says Clunis.

As a veteran of law enforcement, Clunis indicated he is fully aware of the societal ills that drive crime such as poverty, unemployment and drug and alcohol addiction.

He also indicated he knows addressing these social problems is not a burden that can be fully adopted by the police service, but shared his belief the police have a responsibility to address factors that drive crime and need to take the initiative to be "catalysts for change."

I couldn't agree more.

The police have to become more involved in addressing the primary causes of crime.

It's called being proactive, it's called leadership.

If incarceration worked, our jails wouldn't be so full. The revolving doors of justice demonstrate just how inept our justice system has become.

Philosophical changes in crime-fighting are desperately needed, and it appears Devon Clunis is prepared to lead that evolution.

Clunis has a rare combination of passion and optimism that is truly contagious. I have no doubt he touched and inspired every person in that room.

The only question left is, can he put the vision into a plan of action?

Citizens of Winnipeg and members of the police service have a choice to make, buy in or opt out.

As an optimist, it is my hope Clunis achieves a high rate of buy-in, and that citizens and police officers alike decide to be part of the revolution.

Those who opt out will complain, criticize and offer nothing in the way of a meaningful solution to the problem.

Although we have a very long way to go, Winnipeg has the potential to be one great city.

That potential is exponentially increased when people like Devon Clunis accept the challenge to provide committed leadership to an important civic entity that has the potential to help shape our community.

Devon Clunis has a dream.


James Jewell retired from the Winnipeg Police Service after a 25-year career. Follow his blog at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2013 A10


Updated on Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 9:54 AM CST: corrects typo

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