Since 2007 the West Shore RCMP has had an Indigenous Policing Unit working in and with local First Nations both to fight crime and build important relationships.
For the past seven years, the man tasked with achieving those important goals has been Const. Cole Brewer. If you ask him, it’s not just among the most important work he’s ever done, but also the most satisfying.
”The primary role of the unit is to provide culturally-sensitive policing and improve police-community relations, so the primary role is not enforcement, but it is always part of the job,” said Brewer. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s something I really enjoy and have a lot of passion for.”
A member of Okanagan Nation Lower Smilkameen Indian Band, Brewer served in the military before joining the West Shore RCMP with a desire to serve his community through education. That made joining the Indigenous Policing Unit an especially good fit, since the majority of his work is community outreach and education.
A lot of his time on the job is spent engaging with youth, both Indigenous and settler, sharing things about his own culture, local Coast Salish culture and crime prevention messaging.
Recently, that work has involved teaching students at Ecole John Stubbs Memorial School about bannock fry bread and the detachment’s canoe Tl’Ches Spirit and the significance of its name – the Lekwungen word meaning island, specifically Chatham Island, which was originally a Songhees village site – and the cultural importance of the canoe.
He’s also done bottle rocket launches with teens from the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. The unit serves as a way to have police engage with youth in a positive environment.
“In an Indigenous community, everybody knows each other, a lot of people are related to each other, and the community works on personal relationships,” said Brewer. “So the expectation with community partners, whether police or otherwise, is for them to mimic those other relationships. For the RCMP, having someone assigned specifically to the community, to get time to know that community, its members and its culture, is very important. It’s not required for every police call, but it is for some … it’s nice for the community to have someone there who knows all that and is a familiar face.”
It’s a policing model which has proved effective, said Esquimalt Nation Chief Coun. Rob Thomas.
“All these kids need a role model like this, and they need the police in their schools, especially after they discovered the gangs are filtering into our schools,” said Thomas. “He has a fantastic relationship with the Esquimalt Nation and the Songhees Nation.”
Thomas said while Brewer’s relationship with the community’s youth is the most important benefit – with the kids being engaged with his messages and open with him in conversation – his work and the Indigenous Policing Unit’s work has also had a direct impact on crime.
Where police were once called to the nation three or more times per week, he said that hardly ever happens now, and incidents of violence and crime are at nearly zero.
“If this Indigenous program can be as successful across the country as it is here, it would be perfect for the relationship between the RCMP and First Nations.”
Thanks to that strong partnership between the unit and First Nation leadership, Brewer feels an immense sense of satisfaction at the end of each shift.
“I’ve reconnected with my own culture and also with the two communities I work in,” he said. “Being Indigenous and being a police officer, I have a foot in two worlds every day, and I honestly believe it in my core and in my heart that the work I am doing is making a difference and helping to improve Indigenous relations with police.”