It’s been 40 years since Scott Sheppard walked down Main Street.
Things have changed: new shops have appeared, some have gone out of business.
Yesterday the Yukon government announced Sheppard was the new Yukon RCMP commanding officer, replacing Superintendent Peter Clark.
Sheppard is fresh off the plane — he’s been back in the Yukon for nine days — but is already feeling the nostalgia of his younger days living in Whitehorse.
“I have nothing but fond memories of my time up here,” he said.
But for him the sense of community he felt back in the mid-1970s hasn’t changed.
“Whitehorse is unique in a sense that it’s an eclectic arrangement of artists, industrial people, business, First Nation (people),” he said.
During his career with the RCMP, Sheppard has held various roles, from undercover work infiltrating drug syndicates to overseeing the security of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games and training Canadian Forces in Afghanistan on counterinsurgency techniques.
He says he is already looking forward to working with the local RCMP officers.
“We have a great bunch of folks,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure they’re properly supported and they have the tools and resources they need to do the job the community expects them to do.”
And those resources can be sorely needed, as shown when an RCMP officer assaulted a man, who had threatened the officer’s wife, in Carcross last year. The officer, who is now almost done with his probation term, told the court about the stress he was under and the difficult situation of living in the community he policed.
“It’s a 24-hour job for some of our members,” Sheppard said. “In the Yukon, perhaps it’s unique to the northern territories, we ask a lot more of our RCMP members than what we expect in larger areas like Kelowna or Surrey.”
On top of the law and order side of things, members often volunteer in the community, Sheppard said, from building ice rinks to coaching youth sports.
Sheppard himself started out working in a small First Nation community in Manitoba.
On the resource side, he recognized M Division could use more staff.
“In Whitehorse, the men and women, as well as people working out of this building, are run off their feet,” he said. “They’re very busy.”
He also noted that front-line officers deal with a wide range of social issues.
“It’s already been my observation that we’re involved in activities that might be better addressed by other agencies,” he said.
“My predecessor said we spend a lot of time bringing people into custody who are not criminals,” Sheppard said. “But we are the last stop. Is that the best use of police resources?”
Ultimately, the Yukon RCMP follows directions and goals the Yukon Department of Justice sets, he said.
Throughout the interview, Sheppard insisted he wants front-line officers to know they have his support.
“Anything we can do to make their job more efficient and more effective (we will do),” he said.
He also lauded the RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson for his efforts pushing for better mental health care among members.
“It’s not a question of weakness, it’s not a question of this person is having a problem and this person is healthy,” said Sheppard. “It’s a question of finding people the right resources to deal with the issues they’re having.”
Sheppard arrives six years after the RCMP began working to rebuild its relationship with the community.
When Superintendent Peter Clark became the territory’s top cop in 2010, the relationship between the RCMP and the community was at a low point, following two major police scandals.
Sheppard said he will work to follow the principles set out in Sharing Common Ground, the 2010 report aimed to address issues between the force and the community.
“I plan to uphold the guidance and principles spelled out in (the report) but I would also like to think we’re at this point in time, we can look forward, build on it,” he said.
Sheppard, who is also an avid skier and outdoor enthusiast — before he joined the RCMP he studied caribou and wolves in northern B.C. — is excited to enjoy the Yukon’s wilderness.
“I love skiing and I already have a few invitations from some of the elders from the communities to visit with them,” he said.
“I’m very much looking forward (to it).”
With files from Maura Forrest
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org