Ontario's top cop visits, encourages Sault audience (16 photos)Wednesday, October 16, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
OPP Commissioner and Sault Ste. Marie native Chris Lewis (pictured, speaking to Sault College and local high school students) encouraged young people to get involved in the increasingly complex yet ever-exciting field of law enforcement Wednesday.
The OPP currently has 6,000 people in uniform, 3,000 civilian employees and an auxiliary of 850 people, but the police force is preparing to hire recruits, in large numbers over the next few years, to fill gaps left by soon-to-retire officers.
Lewis delivered an address to approximately 600 students, from all five local high schools, along with 150 students from Sault College’s Justice Studies program, at the College’s annual Justice Studies Career Day Wednesday.
It was a chance for not only the OPP, but also the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Correctional Service of Canada and Canadian Forces to answer questions for potential new recruits.
Wednesday also marked a tour of all Sault College facilities in general for secondary school students.
Lewis, who has been in police work for 36 years, and who became OPP Commissioner in August 2010, reflected on his Sault Ste. Marie roots, and recalled that he left well-paid civilian employment and joined the OPP to pursue his dream of being a detective.
Lewis possesses that combination of dignity, friendliness and no-nonsense, tough-as-nails efficiency you would expect in a police officer, and told the audience of his remote Northern Ontario postings in his career’s early days, then the progression to working with OPP units in Southern Ontario.
Lewis said he “had a riot” busting bikers and drug gangs, taking part in wiretaps and forensics, and convincing murderers to confess their crimes.
The Commissioner, who often works 60 to 70 hours a week, encouraged his young audience to finish high school and, for local youth interested in a law enforcement career, to take all of the related, necessary education for such a career at Sault College and Lake Superior State University.
Lewis emphasized education and genuine interest in communities through volunteerism as qualifications and experience that recruiters from all law enforcement agencies are looking for.
Get that combination of education and community involvement, Lewis told his audience, “and the sky will be the limit for you,” no matter what a person’s career choice may be.
Lewis, speaking to reporters, also emphasized: “We’re not looking for hot shots, people on a power trip, people who want to be tough guys.”
“We want people who truly want to help people, people with people skills, people who can talk to and listen to people.”
Lewis added: “We want to hire from the North for the North,” noting that recruits from other parts of the province are not as suited for postings in Northern communities.
Both Lewis and Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Bob Davies, in speaking to Wednesday’s audience, spoke of the role cyber crime is playing in today’s world and the challenges it poses for law enforcement officials.
Davies said social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, can and are being used to fight cyber crime and other types of crime, and encouraged young people assembled Wednesday to look in to law enforcement careers using their social media skills.
Davies said young people have the social media skills his older officers are trying to catch up with.
“Technological crimes are huge and increasing,” Lewis told SooToday.com.
“Cyber crime, whether it be related to child pornography, exploitation, luring, fraud, narcotics, international smuggling of people and different commodities, it’s huge for us,” adding there is no way to permanently block out those people trying to hack into our computers.
“That’s probably our biggest challenge right now,” Lewis told us, bigger than violent crime.
The Commissioner noted that Toronto, with a population of three million people, still suffers a lesser number of homicides compared to some smaller American cities.
“We’re doing something right when it comes to gun control,” Lewis said.
While the OPP and other crime fighting units face a whole new world of villains through technological crime, is more funding on its way for law enforcement agencies to fight the battle?
The OPP, Lewis told us, receives $1 billion annually, but said: “There is no more money coming from the province.”
“We could always use more, but we certainly have to do our best to find efficiencies from within.”
Those efficiencies, Lewis said, include the possibly expanded role private security companies could play.
“We’re looking at certain things that private security companies might be able to do, like guarding fire hoses (at fire scenes).”
“It’s critical, someone’s got to do that, but do we need an $80,000 a year police officer who is fully trained doing that, or can we hire other people to do it?”
Meantime, many students at Wednesday’s Career Fair were clearly impressed.
Justice Studies student Ryan Neveau-Anich told us: “I was even more inspired and today made me think of all the various branches of law enforcement I could go into.”
“I’m going to go to Lake State after Sault College (to transfer his Sault College credits toward a LSSU Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice), because there’s a lot of competition.”
Neveau-Anich told us he listened with fascination as Lewis spoke of his experience in carrying out raids on bikers and drug gangs.
“I’m not afraid of someday going into a high risk raid,” he said.
“I think I would be comfortable doing it, but it’s important to cope with it after. There could be a lot of post-traumatic things to deal with after that.”
Sault College Justice Studies Instructor Frank Caputo was pleased with Wednesday's event, the biggest of its kind held so far by the institution's Justice Studies program: “This career day was a great success and it was a multi-purpose event … it was for our students, the justice studies program, high school students, enforcement agencies recruitment and Sault College.”