This month’s Corner Office spotlight shines on Peter Cuthbert, executive director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP).
ASSOCIATION ADVISER: Peter, tell us a little about CACP and the scope of law enforcement professionals it serves.
PETER CUTHBERT: We’ve been around since 1905. We’re not just about keeping people safe. We’re about making sure police departments have the tools, knowledge and research to operate as efficiently as possible and use tax dollars wisely. We’re about coordinating with other non-law enforcement agencies when the situation requires it. We have four types of members: active, associate, life and honorary.
AA: Is membership growing?
PC: Despite municipal consolidation and a challenging economy, CACP continues to grow, with nearly 1,100 members, including 390 active police chiefs and other senior police executives. We represent 90 percent of the police community in Canada and $2.6 billion in spending power. Members could be in charge of anything from small town departments to the largest metro areas with thousands of officers and staff reporting to them.
AA: Do you have a law enforcement background?
PC: I have 29 years of police service, mostly in a community outside of Ottawa, and I have been executive director here for 12 years. Running an association is not easy at times, but sitting at a desk is not like running a downtown police force.
AA: Is a police chief’s job in Canada similar to a police chief’s job in the U.S?
PC: Yes and no. There are ongoing challenges with the cost of policing on both sides of the border, which I’ll get to in a minute. There are still lots of small departments in the U.S, but we have much more consolidation here in Canada, so the departments tend to be larger on average. At the end of the day, all police chiefs report to their communities; the community is like a board of oversight. That’s ultimately who you answer to, so it wasn’t such a difficult transition for me coming to an association and meeting three times a year with a 19-member board. The board’s very helpful with the mission, vision and strategic plan and they don’t interfere with [day-to-day] operations.
AA: Is there such a thing as a typical CACP member?
PC: Most police chiefs are age 50-plus, with at least 20 years on the job. Again, it takes a while to reach the most senior ranks of a police department, no matter what size the community it serves.
AA: What are some big challenges that Canadian police chiefs face?
PC: As I mentioned earlier, the cost of policing has gotten out of control, and that’s why you’re seeing downsizing and consolidation of police departments. We need more efficiency. For instance, does a police officer who’s directing traffic really need a gun? Does an officer taking crime scene photos need to be armed? Also, about 75 percent of calls that police departments handle have to do with the mentally ill. Most of those calls should be handled by housing or social services, not the police. That just takes resources away fighting criminal activity. We’re trying to get police departments better at sharing information with housing, education and social services.
AA: Despite those issues, the crime rate seems to be going down.
PC: The crime rate is not going down; a lot of crimes just aren’t being reported.
AA: What are effective channels for CACP to stay in touch with its widespread and diverse membership?
PC: We have five publications, including Canadian Police Chief Magazine, CACP Bulletin, CACP Annual Review and an annual directory.
AA: What about events and digital media? We noticed that three of your six full-time staff members are dedicated to events or web administration.
PC: We host 10 to 12 events a year, and we’re just getting started with video on our websites. It can be time-consuming to get the right experts together and to get the right footage edited, but people like video a lot and really pay attention to it. It’s a great way to pass a message along. It was very helpful when we announced the launch of our Police Academy Research Foundation, for instance.
AA: We noticed your website and publications are in French and English. Is it tough producing so many bilingual member communications vehicles?
PC: It can be challenging. We’re national in character, so we have to stay relevant to police in all provinces at all levels including municipal, regional, provincial and federal. There’s the added cost, of course, but also the challenge of timeliness. Our members want everything [news, information, best practices] ASAP, but it can take 24 hours to a week to translate everything correctly. The subject matter can be very technical. It has to be right—in both languages. When translating into French, it’s very hard to satisfy everyone. They all think they can speak it better than you [laughing].
AA: Do you have any initiatives for attracting and retaining younger law enforcement professionals?
PC: First of all, it’s a great career path with excellent pay and benefits. But, you have to communicate with younger people in the ways they like to communicate. LinkedIn has been good for us and my government relations person has a big Twitter following and is constantly tweeting, especially when we’re hosting or attending events. Our social media followers are very interested in things like ethics, trafficking, interoperability, criminal justice reform. It’s not just what’s being said, but who’s saying it.
AA: How would you describe your leadership style?
PC: Command-and-control works in a police department, but not in an association environment. Associations need to be collaborative and democratic. You need command and control when all hell’s breaking loose in law enforcement, but that doesn’t happen much in the association world. I have a very dedicated, loyal and professional staff. We discuss things a lot, and I just let them do their jobs. Everyone has a say and really understands our goals and objectives.
AA: We noticed you have partnerships with global technology, telecommunications and financial corporations. What’s the connection with law enforcement?
PC: Executives of companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Motorola, Bank of Canada want to be connected to police chiefs because they have tools, technologies and systems for making law enforcement more efficient. Motorola has long provided dispatch systems. Oracle databases help departments manage criminal profiles and crime stats. Microsoft sponsors two-day sessions for police chiefs where we discuss their biggest concerns and problems.
AA: CACP has been a strong advocate of evidence-based research for law enforcement. Can you tell us more about your research foundation?
PC: Sure. As you probably know, policing is constantly changing in response to the evolving needs of the communities we serve. It changes in response to new threats and criminal behaviors. It also changes because it’s a profession committed to improving its practices and using the best available evidence to do so. The Research Foundation’s goal is to advance law enforcement through research, education and innovation.
AA: How so?
PC: Our police leaders need relevant, evidence-based research that will lead to better decision-making. Police chiefs work in a very complex environment. We not only have to make better informed decisions, but deal with issues that are closely linked to community safety, health, housing and social services. We need research from a broad range of experts in order to solve the problems we face. We also want to make sure that each generation of police leaders adds to the body of evidence-based research that it passes on to its successors.
AA: What’s keeping you up at night from a work-related standpoint?
PC: Sustainability. You’ve constantly got to watch your business lines. You can’t just rely on dues. Government grants have dried up, too. Non-dues revenue has become increasingly important to us. Advertising in our publications; sponsorship of our websites; and corporate partnerships—it’s an important part of our future sustainability.