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Leading in a Post-COVID WorldBy Chief Nishan Duraiappah Law enforcement professionals play a unique role in our society. Our police members are obviously counted on to ensure the safety and well-being of anyone who makes Ontario their home or visits our province for business or pleasure. But to accomplish this, we need police professionals who are able to discern social or other underlying challenges in our communities and adapt the delivery of policing services to meet the community’s safety expectations. I often hear people talking about the post-COVID norm. Social norms are those things we often take for granted – unwritten rules of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that we consider acceptable in a particular social group or culture. They provide us with expected ideas of how to behave and function to provide order and predictability in society. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that COVID-19 is causing geopolitical disruption, upending so much of what we took for granted when it comes to work and family life, how we interact with friends and neighbours, how we view our public institutions, etc. Post-COVID Norm This new post-COVID norm can mean a lot of things when it comes to personal and public safety. At a personal level, people like Susan Young, a certified mindfulness coach, are finding that many people are reporting new levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression as a result of the social isolation and changes in work routines that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. She notes that research shows that today, rates of premature death from loneliness and social isolation are higher than those caused by obesity, and that the detrimental health impacts of chronic loneliness and isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Additionally, people who have a “weak sense of community” are more likely to be in the top five per cent of high-users of health care. Socially, the pandemic pressures exposed feelings of social angst and frustration with public health and other institutions. While largescale anti-mandate protests have died down, as police members, we are clearly seeing lingering social unrest. This is something that Dr. Alex Bierman, sociologist from the University of Calgary, described as “people feeling a loss of control, which creates a sense of anxiety and anger, especially among people who were also experiencing increased financial problems.” “When people feel anger, they want to strike out – to try to look for a reason for why they’re angry, and possibly to reinforce a sense of control. I think that’s definitely what is driving some of what we’re seeing today,” noted Dr. Bierman in an article in the Calgary Herald on March 10, 2023.“ SOCIAL NORMS ARE THOSE THINGS WE OFTEN TAKE FOR GRANTED – UNWRITTEN RULES OF BELIEFS, ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOURS THAT WE CONSIDER ACCEPTABLE IN A PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP OR CULTURE. ”— CHIEF NISHAN DURAIAPPAH Policing Implications As police professionals, we need to be aware of such social trends. Today’s police officers and – increasingly, our civilian members and community partners – are encountering people experiencing significant traumas. Financial pressures, familial issues, social disorder, mental health and addictions and concerns about our social institutions – these and other realities make for uncertain times. It has required our members to be more attuned to the root causes of people’s situations as we fulfill our legislative responsibilities. As police leaders, OACP members have to be leading their organizations to be responsive and accountable to the people we serve. In our recruiting, training and service delivery, we need to be critical thinkers. Responding to crisis and criminal incidents will always be a core function of policing. That’s why we prioritize equipping and training our people to perform their duties safely – including protecting their mental well-being. But the art of critical thinking enables our members to vacillate between the other roles they are called upon beyond traditional incident response. These other roles of mitigating risk and seeking collaborative solutions are at the heart of community safety and well-being as concepts. I believe that all police personnel in Ontario – sworn, civilian, special constables, auxiliary and cadet members – are capable of leading. Leadership is not confined to rank or title. I believe the frontline officer, the 911 communicator, civilian staff who handle our finances, human resources, fleet, etc. are all uniquely positioned to lead in their areas of responsibility. In this post-COVID era, we need leaders throughout our organizations who will contribute to our overall endstate. As senior leaders, OACP members are expected to provide leadership, mentoring, support and encouragement to all members in their respective organizations. Being OACP President provides me with a unique perspective into how so many OACP members are leading. Courage and dedication are our norms when it comes to the important work of leading and inspiring. It can be easy to be discouraged in our profession. The expectations are high, the pressures significant. But we are highly qualified, competent and trained to deliver on the promises of community safety and well-being for Ontarians. Even on the darkest days, our policing future is bright. Nishan Duraiappah is the Chief of Police of Peel Regional Police. He served as OACP President in 2022 and 2023.