Const. Tyler Callander says he’s settling in well to his role as Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s new community officer.
“It was a bit of a transition,” the Sarnia Police officer said of the job that officially began in May. “I don’t have an Indigenous background, so coming into this role, I figured it may have presented some challenges. But at the end of the day it did not; they’ve been very welcoming in the community.
“I feel like they’ve really gotten comfortable with me,” he added. “The kids call me ‘Officer Tyler.’”
The creation of the new role comes as part of the service’s ongoing efforts to strengthen relations with the First Nation, deputy chief Julie Craddock explained during a presentation at Thursday’s Police Services Board meeting.
Sarnia is one of only two municipal police services in the province that provides policing to a First Nations community, said Craddock, pointing to an agreement between Aamjiwnaang and the Police Services board.
While there are advantages to having standalone Indigenous police services, there’s also some downsides, she explained.
“First Nations police services don’t fall under the Police Services Act… and they don’t have oversight bodies like the SIU (Special Investigations Unit) or OIPRD (Office of the Independent Police Review Director).
“So with Sarnia providing policing services to Aamjiwnaang, we fall under all of that legislation and oversight.”
Officials met back in February to discuss the prospect of providing a dedicated officer to Aamjiwnaang, she added.
“One of the primary goals… was really to establish a presence in the community through positive engagement, and provide effective, efficient and culturally appropriate policing to the people of Aamjiwnaang.”
Interested officers were asked to write a letter of intent, explaining their interest in the role and what it would mean to them.
“Those letters were provided to Aamjiwnaang through the chief and band council, and they actually selected the officer themselves,” she explained. “So, they were the ones that chose Tyler, and they couldn’t have picked a better person for this position.”
Callander has his own office at the community centre, attends events, serves weekly seniors’ lunch, visits with local youth, fields calls and reports, and acts as a liaison for the Sarnia Police Service.
“It can be a little intimidating to go to the police and make a report,” he said. “With me being right there in the community, I find that their comfort level is a lot better; they come speak with me, ask for advice, and if a report needs to be made, I’m happy to do that as well.”
Callander wears a modified police vest with orange lettering, and plans are underway for community members to help add a new design to his police vehicle.
“It’s not just Tyler — he is the hub — but Aamjiwnaang has full access to our services,” Sarnia Police chief Derek Davis added. “We want the community to know that we value them as a public safety partner, and we don’t take the privilege of providing services to them, lightly.”
Board member George Vandenberg called it a welcome change.
“If you remember, policing in Aamjiwnaang was always reactive; something happened and we’d send a cruiser down there.
“Now we’ve got someone who is going to be there, and it’s great.”
Aamjiwnaang Chief Chris Plain noted in a statement that the new role is exceeding expectations in the community.
“Many of the people, including a lot of children, have grown fond of him,” he said. “And I don’t think this could have worked out any better.”