Yellowknife detachment commander Insp. Alex Laporte is leaving the North for a new opportunity and the next phase in his career at RCMP national headquarters in Ottawa.
Laporte has served 12 years with the NWT RCMP, two of which he led the Yellowknife detachment that serves the capital city, Dettah and Ndilo and a large stretch of geography toward the diamond mines and barren lands. He leaves at a unique moment in policing history.
In cities all over the world, including Canada, there have been cultural pressures for improvements to the quality of police service – with some even calling for the abolition or defunding of police services.
The North has not escaped these criticisms, including in areas of oversight and accountability, diversity and representation on the force, and the need for greater awareness of the perceptions of Indigenous people and people of colour in how are treated by front-line officers.
Laporte admitted that his move takes place at an important time for Northern policing.
"I do think it is a great moment right now," he said. "There have been other moments, but I'm hopeful that this is a moment for (progress).
"I enjoy the narrative of being able to move forward and progressing and working together as a community. Police agencies are one part of that puzzle, which is, in my opinion, dealing with social health issues and public health issues. Racism is part of it. Trauma is part of it. Addictions are part of it.
"The police can only do so much and I think the public would expect the police officers to be experts in intervening when someone's life at risk."
Within weeks Laporte will be an ethics officer in the professional responsibility branch at national headquarters in Ottawa and the RCMP will be in the process of hiring his replacement.
He follows a revolving door of detachment commanders over the last decade that have included Insp. Matt Peggs (August 2015-February 2018); Insp. Frank Gallagher (April 2013-February 2015); and Insp. David Elliott (November 2009-October 2012).
Laporte said he sees his tenure as having been highlighted by positive gains in areas of social and public health.
"For the Yellowknife detachment, I would say every year about 50 per cent – give or take – of our calls for service involve a social health disorder attached to them," he said. "So as a police agency, we are really looking at ourselves to see if we can mitigate that through various initiatives. That way we can focus on other areas that the public would like us to work on."
Among examples of those focus areas would be engaging with youth and pushing drug dealers out of town, he said.
Laporte said that non-governmental and governmental organizations that have been working with the city's vulnerable population in areas of mental health, addictions, trauma, and housing are appreciated by police and remain important in their line of work.
"There's been a momentum for social health initiatives in Yellowknife for sure," he said of his tenure. "We've seen a sobering day shelter come into play. We seen some funds injected by the different levels of government into different housing programs and we have seen street outreach.
"Having sat at various (organization) tables, there are lots of great people in this town that have a great desire to improve the quality of life of our vulnerable and they are working hard. I will keep an eye from where I'm at because I'm super interested in seeing this community continue."
Diversity on the police force
The Yellowknife detachment has 42 police officers plus another 10 members that serve.
Asked if he sees the need for increased diversity on the police force he said, yes but it is largely the responsibility of recruiters and part of an ongoing evolution of the organization – one that began in the seventies when the first women were hired as RCMP officers.
"We are now in 2020 and we are really wanting to be proactive and connected with the different cultures and folks out there to bring that diversity into the organization," he said. "I'm hopeful, and I trust, that we will be progressing, and continue to progress and that young men and women of all sorts of cultures will be willing to join the RCMP or police force to come and contribute to the great work that's being done."
Pressed on what that means locally, Laporte said he recognizes that new hires have to be keenly aware of local Indigenous culture – namely the Yellowknives Dene and its historical experience here.
"It's important to understand the communities that we police," he said. "When I came here and particularly in my role as a detachment commander, engaging with the Yellowknives Dene First Nations leaders, the Chiefs' Council and the CEO and attending ceremonies and progressing towards different initiatives, it was important to have that awareness and the knowledge of the history. Their history is so rich. So rich."
It's for that reason that new cops need to "engage, listen, learn and be part of those communities and be part of the activities," he added.
Black Lives Matter rally
Laporte and other senior officers were notably out front and visible at RCMP headquarters when a Black Lives Matter rally of hundreds of residents rolled down Franklin Avenue and to the 49 Avenue location on June 9.
The RCMP at the time made a strong signal to the community that they wanted to be seen as partners in change and responsive to the concerns of segments of the public who feel they have had negative experiences with police because of their race.
"There's great interest from the public and the media on the work that the RCMP is doing in Yellowknife and for good reason," he said. "I know for me, I wanted to be accessible as a detachment commander and available in both good times and bad times.
"Because there are a lot of good times. We often publicize the bad times a little bit more, but it's a matter of, you know, telling your story and being out there when needed. And being accessible. I think the public recognizes that and I think our employees recognize that as well."
Laporte is leaving with confidence that Yellowknife is a safe city to live. He is grateful for his personal and professional development and the work of RCMP members and supportive staff who have supported him before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"'I would like to say how grateful I am to the community of Yellowknife from a personal standpoint and familial standpoint," he said. "I came here in 2008 as a drug investigator with my wife, we were newlywed and we're now leaving as a family unit with two beautiful children. It's the the acceptance of the community when we came in and the openness of the community to develop lifelong friendships. We have made lifelong memories and it's been a beautiful journey."