When Coun. Sally Mole announced Sgt. Jeff Swann as Ucluelet’s 2015 Citizen of the Year she made a point to drop the title from his name to reflect the fact that his impact on the community had far surpassed his role as the local police chief.
A year prior, Swann was the focus of a special ceremony where he was honoured for his dedication to Ucluelet. This ceremony was not part of any annual event. The community simply wanted to show him how much they loved him and appreciated his presence.
Over 200 people attended.
To say he’s a respected and revered member of his community is obvious but add to that the diligence and effectiveness with which he’s helmed the local RCMP detachment and we’re left scratching our heads as to why his bosses would force him out of a community that was quite literally pleading to keep him.
Ucluelet’s crime rate dropped by 60 per cent between Swann’s arrival in 2009 to last year.
Much of this can be attributed to his focus on community policing and his constant presence at the local schools, playing floor hockey or teaching D.A.R.E., which has brought us a generation of youth that respects and appreciates their RCMP.
He has exemplified everything the RCMP should want from a detachment commander and the crop of cops in his charge can be seen at every community event and charitable function in town. Attitude reflects leadership.
Swann has transformed the Ucluelet RCMP detachment into a shining community hub where locals feel comfortable raising concerns to listening ears.
Swann’s bosses have been admirably forthcoming about their reasons for forcing him out, though it’s a struggle to see how these reasons apply.
One reason Chief Superintendent Ray Bernoties gave the Westerly in an interview last spring was to ensure officers stay sharp.
“In many LDP’s [limited duration postings], members cannot maintain their full skill level due to a relatively lighter case load than other provincial or municipal detachments,” he said.
A 60 per cent reduction in crime and a very visible community policing presence makes it a hard sell to apply this reasoning to Swann.
Another reason given is that it would be unfair for one sergeant to spend his career in paradise while another was stuck in a less desirable location.
“It’s important to understand that we also have RCMP members who have completed their time in some LDPs which are very remote and challenging,” Bernoties said.
Are we to consider Salt Spring Island undesirable? That’s where Swann’s replacement is coming from.
The RCMP is a phenomenal organization full of members who commit their lives to keeping us safe. It is more likely than not that our new police chief will be outstanding.
It will take some time for him to get localized, some never reach that summit, but he’ll earn the respect and appreciation of the community, perhaps even to the levels Swann achieved.
But then what? Do we go through all this again?
Why is this community left hoping the new guy might one day be as effective as the guy we have now when the guy we have now wants to stay?
And how would you like to be the guy coming in to replace Swann after the town’s council, business community and locals spent over a year fighting to keep him?
Rules change, priorities change, the system is supposed to get smarter and adapt.
The RCMP had an opportunity to adapt and showcase a good news story by backing off their limited duration policy and letting a 20-year veteran of their organization stay in Ucluelet for the additional two years he was asking for.
‘Beloved cop allowed to stay in community he loves,’ is a headline this newspaper should have had the opportunity to write and one the RCMP should have been champing at the bit to tout.
The wrong call was made.
We salute Sgt. Jeff Swann for keeping us safe and improving our paradise.
You will be missed.
Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.