Lessons on “Connect, Lead, Inspire” From the OACP 2023 Annual Conference By Larissa PereiraThe 2023 Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) Annual Conference was held in Kingston, Ontario, from June 10 to 14, 2023. It featured a wide array of presenters and panels covering a range of topics relative to police leaders, which echoed this year’s theme of Connect, Lead, Inspire.

As policing leaders, there are key elements to consider when it comes to developing outstanding organizations. Opening conference keynote presenter Tanya McCready of the Winterdance Dogsled Tour and author of Journey of 1000 Miles opened the conference with a timely message: time, dedication, trust, and practice are key elements to leadership, as well as ensuring that leaders know their team and where they thrive best. To encourage a team-based mindset, she told conference delegates that leaders must find new and ongoing ways to connect and grow with their teams. By developing strong bonds, a team and its leaders can deepen their level of trust, dedication, and knowledge of one another, effectively increasing not just their performance, but also their sense of comradery and job satisfaction.
Connections & Vulnerability As part of our Annual Conference, the OACP has for many years honoured Special Olympic athletes – true heroes. Through our connection with Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) as the OACP’s charity of choice, police personnel across Ontario have many opportunities to support Special Olympians achieve personal and team fulfilment. During the SOO session, we heard about connecting being a fundamental human need everyone shares. When people share a common experience, it can help them overcome challenges and elevate their mental well-being.When opportunities for connection are present, everyone has the capacity to give and to gain, and that’s why the OACP has proudly supported the Law Enforcement Torch Run since 1987. Police services facilitating these athletic events are not just providing opportunities for police personnel to work with these wonderful athletes. They are also empowering them to lead and mentor those within their own professional and personal networks and communities. Providing leadership opportunities, promoting inclusion, and engaging with the community is an essential component of being a police leader at all ranks.While confidence and knowledge are foundations for a great leader, one must also be vulnerable. If a team is only as strong as its leaders, those in leadership positions must be able to explore their own vulnerabilities. In the presentation The Way Forward by Ontario Association of Police Services Boards Executive Director Lisa Darling, OACP Executive Director Jeff McGuire, and OACP Director of Government Relations and Communications José Luís (Joe) Couto delegates were challenged to check their egos and recognize their own vulnerabilities as leaders.Learning is a life-long commitment, and by sharing perspectives and experiences, police personnel can grow together in their common purpose of community safety and security. The panel members all agreed that a person must be comfortable in their own skin in order to seek support and to provide a safe space for others to explore their own vulnerabilities and biases. That is a basic element in personnel and professional growth. This was further emphasized in the session Bias Testing Through Organizational Leadership with Dr. Pete Jones, Dr. Philip Semple, Dr. Frank Trovato, and Letizia Trovato from TNT Justice Consultants. They noted that bias testing can help leaders understand where they are as an organization and can be a useful tool in assessing progress.Organizational Assessments Assessing where you are as an organization is an essential leadership strategy. The results of such assessments should be used when developing an organization’s strategic objectives. This is especially important when tackling issues around racism. This was an important message delivered by Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah, Association of Black Law Enforcers President Jacqueline Edwards, and Superintendent Gary Maracle of the Ontario Provincial Police, who stressed that anti-racism strategies must be based on doing honest and brave work with a clear focus on the elimination of systemic racism within the policing sector. This was further explored in another session where delegates were challenged to help their members to not only develop a better understanding of their biases, but to critically understand the impact that it can have on their work.The session entitled Race-Based Data as a Tool for Change: A Human Rights Approach to Gathering Intelligence was led by Mandy Williams and Staff Sergeant Mike Kent of the Waterloo Regional Police Service. It explored how data collection can support public sector organizations to close gaps and eliminate barriers, working to advance fair treatment of everyone. Identifying and eliminating systemic racism and racial disparities is essential for creating safe spaces for all while developing equitable practices within institutions .In the Olympic Principles that Drive Influential Leadership presentation by author Kevin Rempel, this extraordinary athlete drove home key points that all police leaders must cultivate confidence, accept responsibility, and empower mindsets to help their teams achieve results while also learning to embrace change. Guiding team members in a direction that supports well-being and resilience requires empathy, thought-out communication, and the right tools delivered in a consistent manner. Difficult choices are an integral part of leadership, but taking time to reflect on leadership strategies, along with identifying how to foster deeper connections with their teams can assist in building trust and encouraging open communication. Additionally, transparency is essential to police leadership. Rempel urged police leaders to conduct themselves in an open and honest manner within their organizations and when they engage with members of the public, media, and elected officials. This will further enhance the reliability and integrity of those leading police services. These are all points Rempel touches on in his book, Still Standing.Safety & Security Arguably, one of the top concerns of police leaders today is the safety and security of their own members and members of the communities they serve. When dealing with unforeseen levels of violence against officers, police leaders in Ontario and across Canada have come together to further their advocacy on bail reform. This has in recent times led to an unprecedented level of strategic and coordinated collaboration between Canada’s police chiefs, police associations, police services boards, municipal governments, and Premiers . As seen in the Violent Crime Reform: Implications for Police Professionals presentation by OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique and Ms. Carley Valente, Legal Counsel for York Regional Police, this collaboration has generated instant and enormous momentum toward the development of legislative, policy, and resource solutions that will effect true change and meaningful bail reform in Canada – a key advocacy goal for the OACP. Promoting public and officer safety in accordance with Charter principles will serve to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system.The role of a leader is as complex as it is rewarding. Whereas connection can provide a foundation for trust and building relationships, inspiration is a driving force for those already in leadership roles and for those who will someday come to lead. Part of being a leader is to inspire others to act in effective, positive, and ethical ways, to overcome challenges and to achieve personal and organizational growth through teamwork and a shared vision. Be it community safety, delivering on equity, diversity, inclusion goals, meeting advocacy goals, and supporting each other’s mental and physical well-being, police leaders strive to inspire meaningful change in the ranks and in their communities.We trust that delegates to the 2023 OACP Annual Conference were both challenged and inspired to lead. Do you have a presentation you would like the OACP to consider for the 2024 Annual Conference in London Ontario from June 9 to 12, 2024? Contact Joe Couto at jcouto@oacp.ca with your ideas and make sure to watch for registrations for our annual gathering to open early in the new year. We can’t wait to see you there.Larissa Pereira is the Communications Coordinator for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. She can be reached at lpereira@oacp.ca.