The Yukon RCMP’s commanding officer is preparing to leave the territory after six years spent leading the Yukon’s police force.
Chief Superintendent Peter Clark will leave the Yukon in the coming months to head up the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador, where he will be appointed assistant commissioner.
“This territory has been our home since 2009 and it will be difficult for my wife and I to leave the Yukon,” Clark said in a news release on Thursday. “We have had many wonderful experiences and have come to know friends and colleagues that we will miss.”
During his time as commanding officer, Clark worked to improve the relationship between the RCMP and local communities and First Nations.
He took over in June 2010, shortly after the Yukon division had been tested by two major police scandals.
In 2008, Raymond Silverfox died of sepsis and pneumonia after spending 13 hours in police custody. A tape of the incident showed officers mocking Silverfox as he lay in his own vomit and excrement.
A year later, two Watson Lake officers were charged with sexual assault, though they were later acquitted.
Clark acted as co-chair during a review of the Yukon’s police force in 2010, which was in part a response to these and other incidents. After months of public consultation, the review led to a report called Sharing Common Ground, which made 33 recommendations for strengthening the relationship between the RCMP and the public.
In an interview with the News, Clark said the consultation “set the tone for improving relationships and better understanding the needs of the community.”
Clark said the most important changes made in response to the report include the construction of an arrest processing unit at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Intoxicated people are now brought there instead of to the police station, and they have access to medical services.
Another important recommendation, Clark said, was to have external police agencies conduct investigations when the Yukon RCMP are involved in a serious injury or death.
The Yukon RCMP has also set up a specialized response unit to deal with cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault and child welfare, as a result of the report’s recommendations.
Clark said the RCMP now makes more of an effort to introduce officers to their communities. Yukon’s police officers have also been required to take cultural training classes at Yukon College.
“Our responsibility is to provide a police service in partnership with the community. We police with the community,” Clark said. “We can’t be successful unless we have the support and involvement of other groups.”
Giving police officers the time to talk to people and build relationships is critical, Clark said. In 2015, for instance, Whitehorse experienced a rash of break-ins and theft. Clark pointed out that police relied on tips from the community to solve those cases.
“Most of the investigations that have been concluded… did not happen because we found somebody with a hammer in their hand and leaving a store with a bunch of stolen property.”
Looking ahead, he said the Yukon RCMP must continue to look at the root causes of crime, including drugs and homelessness.
He also said police must have the time to stop and talk to people instead of going straight from call to call. But he stopped short of saying the territory needs more officers.
“I think there’s always that kind of belief that more will solve a problem. It’s more complicated than that.”
Clark still hasn’t chosen a departure date. According to the news release, “the RCMP process to identify the next commanding officer for Yukon is in its early stages and will unfold in the following weeks and months.”
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