Chief Jolliffe builds bridges and community

Walking through the doors of the modern and spacious headquarters of the York Regional Police, a visitor can sense that the organization, led for the last five years by 35-year police veteran, Chief Eric Jolliffe, does things differently.

No sirens, clanging doors, frenzied voices or brutish architecture greet your arrival; the building is home to forensic labs, training ranges, lots of hardware and sophisticated equipment, but what greets visitors is modern, comfortable design, friendly faces with genuine smiles, and an air of calm, businesses-like, professionalism.

The bright and soaring Armand P. La Barge Atrium – named after Jolliffe’s predecessor – spans much of the south exposure of the building and can hold a 500-person social event, as it does on dozens of occasions throughout the year, including education seminars, police graduations and citizenship ceremonies. The atrium and building is as much a community centre as it is police space. And that suits Jolliffe fine.

In conversation with the chief, the word “community” comes up quickly and often, and so too do other key themes: service, building trust, safety, diversity, and partnership, to name a few.

Old police descriptors like “enforcement” are never used. The distinct, community focus is no accident, and it is clear that Jolliffe, as much as he understands what is happening today is equally focused on what will happen years from now.

With over 1600 uniformed employees, 700 civilian employees and over 550 volunteers and a $295 million annual budget, YRP is already the sixth biggest police services unit in Canada, serving one of the fastest growing and most diverse populations. By 2031, over 1.7 million million people are projected to live in the region, 63 per cent of whom will have been born outside of Canada. Jolliffe is focused on how best to serve them.

The thesis for his master’s degree in leadership focused on how York Regional Police can enhance its relationships with its diverse communities.

“The reason why I picked that particular topic,” he explains, “(is) that this police service needs to be positioned to be able to continually provide service to its community and ensure that we continue to develop and build trust and confidence.”

That is helped by a 10-person communications team that does everything from crafting press releases to monitoring social media feeds and websites. Jolliffe notes that his two deputy chiefs, area superintendents and street level cops are all ambassadors whose role, at times, includes building community bridges.

“We’re getting folks into this region that have seen a completely different structure of policing where (police) are considered to be brutal, corrupt or agents of the government,” he says.

This is why the YRP has an active presence at weekly immigrant welcome centres, as well as schools, festivals and other community events.

Jolliffe also acknowledges painful “conversations” many North American forces are having to engage in, as they deal with public relations crises and come to grips with the changing face of what police services should be.

This includes Toronto, whose police have been under scrutiny for several issues over the last few years. Citing a recent KPMG report laying out recommendations of how Toronto police—and others—should change, Jolliffe notes that much of what was suggested has already been done by YRP.

“This police service has a very strong track record of looking at itself and making change happen,” he says of maintaining good PR. “Part of the reasons why we have not been (in that situation) is the fact that we have a significant relationship with the diverse communities of this region.”

The determination to be an “agent of change” is what Jolliffe believes was a key reason for his promotion to police chief.

Calling his own education a “lifelong journey,” Jolliffe says he ensures others under his watch improve and grow in every way possible too.

“I think most of your readers will be suitably impressed with the amount of training the members of this police service get,” he says, noting not only a rigorous diversity training schedule, but ongoing job-specific training, depending on the beat of the service member.

A new training centre is now under construction at Woodbine Ave. and Davis Dr., slated to open next year.

While the bureaucratic side of the job might not spring to most people’s conceptualization of the job of the chief of police, Jolliffe notes that dealing with budgets and liaising with lawmakers can take up to half of his 15-16 hour work day, which he says is “pretty much seven days a week.”

Jolliffe is quick to note, however, that he is just one member of the sizable team, which includes the expected characters, as well as more unique components like the YRP Pipe Band, and those who run the Safety Village in Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area.

The 10,000 visits the Safety Village receives each year have had an impact, Jolliffe says.

“My heart tells me that the work that our folks do at that community Safety Village, now having seen over 400,000 kids since it opened in 2005, has had an impact.”

YRP is always looking for more good people too. YRP under Jolliffe’s watch has been declared one of the GTA’s top employers. But although training is an ongoing part of the job, Jolliffe notes that the biggest part of YRP’s hiring success is not changing people but identifying those who already hold dear the seven values important to the service; people, community, integrity, leadership, accountability, competence, and teamwork.

“We are a values based organization and I consider myself a values based leader,” he says. “When we bring someone in, they are already fitting with the values of the organization.”

Those values, Jolliffe says, are what inspires him to do what he does – build community bridges, learn, listen and spend the large budget given his organization wisely. “From a public figure point of view, I think your reader needs to know that. I take it to heart big time.”

There is a serious side to the job, for which there is no preparation, according to Jolliffe: the “immense impact” that losing an officer has.

“When someone in this profession is taken from us by criminal means—when people ask me what keeps me up at night, it’s getting a phone call that says things haven’t gone well,” he says. “I’ve lost a few members.”

But his face lightens as he mentions the best part of the job.

“Working with the community and a ton of outstanding people in this police service,” he says. “I couldn’t be more proud of the work of this service.”

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