Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From police chaplain to chief

Union supports incoming boss, a 25-year veteran

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From the streets of Jamaica to becoming Winnipeg's top cop is a life-long journey even Devon Clunis admits was beyond dreaming.

Clunis, 48, was appointed Winnipeg's next police chief Thursday, replacing Keith McCaskill, who will retire in December.

"I could never have dreamt a dream like that," Clunis said after he was introduced to the media. "It was never even in our universe."

Clunis came to Winnipeg with his family at the age of 12. He joined the force when he was 23, stating he simply wanted to make a difference. During this 25-year career, he has been involved in all aspects of policing: He worked undercover in the vice unit and in traffic and community services. He has a divinity degree and has been the police chaplain for several years. He reached the rank of superintendent.

Clunis is the first individual from a visible minority to hold the post in Winnipeg, joining a handful of other visible-minority officers to become top cops in other Canadian communities.

His coming-out party was strictly a social event. Several senior police officers lined the small media room at the Public Safety Building and applauded when he was introduced.

However, Clunis would not say how he plans to perform the job differently than his predecessors, saying those details would come later.

Clunis vowed to take a consultative approach, stating he would meet with front-line officers and members of the community to hear what they expect of him.

He plans to make a formal statement about how he will lead the service in a few weeks after he's consulted with a variety of groups.

"In the history of my career, the one thing I've come to realize is that one person doesn't have all the answers," he said.

"It's very important to be collaborative, to hear from my members, and also hear from the community.

"At the right time I will be back to you with exactly what we'll be doing."

Clunis gave a nod to McCaskill, who was in the room and joked he's still in charge until the end of the year.

"Chief McCaskill has done a great job and I simply want to build on what he's done."

McCaskill gave notice in March he would retire at the end of year, and the city launched a national job search for his replacement, bringing in an outside firm to help.

None of the deputy chiefs, who are expected to retire soon, wanted the job. The two finalists were Clunis and Dave Thorne, a 31-year veteran and also a superintendent.

"Devon is a good person with a lot to offer the service and the citizens of Winnipeg," Thorne said.

"I look forward to supporting him in any way that I can as he leads the way into the future."

The head of the Winnipeg police union applauded Clunis's appointment.

"We are very pleased that one of our members was able to work his way up through the ranks to take on the top leadership role," Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said.

"Given the unique challenges we face, in comparison to other major cities, not the least of which is the sheer scale of violent crime, we need someone who knows the local challenges and has the background to develop solutions that will actually make a difference."

The city has budgeted $220 million for policing this year, which amounts to 24 per cent of all city spending on operations.

Clunis faces many challenges: Winnipeg has earned the title of the country's murder capital and the country's most violent community, dubious honours while the police budget and its size are at record levels.

He assumes his new role at a time when police face an unprecedented level of civilian oversight. The city has already started an operational and financial review of the service, with an eye to deliver more value for every dollar spent, while the province has created a new police commission that will oversee policing policy and hear complaints.

Clunis said he welcomes the city's operational review, which began in August, adding the input from outsiders is important.

He also said he's not concerned about the new police commission complicating police oversight. City council already approves police budgets and council's protection and community services committee makes occasional requests regarding policy direction.

Later, Clunis said his appointment should be seen as inspirational for members of the city's visible minorities, where success is possible for those who seek it.

Clunis said he will make a special effort to work on relationships with the aboriginal community and with minority groups and build new ones where they don't exist.

"I'm an individual who sees possibilities everywhere," Clunis said. "I dream very positive dreams. I believe this will come to fruition if we simply stay on focus."

Who is Devon Clunis?

-- Immigrated to Canada from Harmony Vale, Jamaica, when he was 12 years old.

-- Joined the Winnipeg Police Service in 1987.

"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 in an interview with the Free Press in December 2010. "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."

-- During his career with the WPS, Clunis has served in all major areas including uniform patrol, traffic, plainclothes investigation, vice, community relations, organizational development and duty office.

-- He was named the WPS chaplain in 1998.

"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."

-- Current position: Superintendent, development support branch.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 A3

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