Peel Regional Police Chief Nish Duraiappah has only been on the job for three days, but he says he has already been meeting with front-line officers as he works to build trust and new relationships with personnel and community stakeholders.
“I don’t think I’ve actually sat in my chair in my office yet, believe it or not,” Duraiappah told Global News during a one-on-one interview Friday afternoon before heading out to a speaking engagement.
Duraiappah was sworn in during a ceremony in Brampton on Tuesday after serving as a deputy chief with the Halton Regional Police Service.
Born in Sri Lanka, he and his family moved to Toronto in the 1970s ahead of conflict in that country.
“Like so many others, we came with very few assets with us into this country and came to Toronto,” he said, adding he soon moved to the western end of the Greater Toronto Area because of jobs his parents got.
Despite his parents pushing him to work in a field like engineering, it was a suggestion from a high school teacher that he look at a law enforcement career through a youth policing diversity initiative.
“Like all immigrant stories, everyone has a different influence. They want what’s best for their children and it has to far surpass the sacrifice they made to come here, and policing was definitely not one of them,” he said.
After joining Halton Regional Police in 1995, he served as a uniform patrol officer and worked in specialized units such as guns and gangs, drugs and narcotics, and diversity and cultural relations.
“I went from being in an undercover capacity buying illicit narcotics to next day to buying samosas and Indian food at diversity events,” he joked.
“The reason I tell you that is it’s the most remarkable thing because it opened my eyes to what the good balance is and how significant community relationships are for the success of public confidence in policing.”
When it comes to networking, Duraiappah has embraced social media as a method for communicating with people. On Twitter, he often posts photos from events, police initiatives and he even took a few selfies at the end of his swearing in.
“It’s a force-multiplier for the work our people do. I’m just a small window into the activities this police organization does,” Duraiappah said, adding Twitter can be an extra tool to help build confidence and promote often unseen day-to-day work.
Building trust with personnel, Peel Region residents
As a chief who worked in a nearby region, Duraiappah said he is cognizant of the need for residents who get to know them — especially within communities where there is distrust of police.
“Trust in policing is really a significant issue. We’ve seen it across the United States and across our own environment here … Trust is actually built on having and developing a mutual understanding,” he said.
“We as a police need to take time to understand the road travelled for particular communities. When that’s done and you develop a mutual understanding of their lived experience, then you can establish trust and only then can you really build a pathway forward.
“That is my philosophy and will be what I try to weave into the fabric of this police organization, which already does a great job, but we’re going to try to exponentially take it to the next level.”
When it comes to working with his new officers and civilian personnel, he also said he knows there’s a lot to get up to speed on. Duraiappah said he has setup a transition team to “saturate” him into as many units as possible over the next three months. He added he wants to look at ways to innovate and evolve after getting to know the organization.
“(The) process is the same, people are different. The process for me is simply that policing has to change,” Duraiappah said.
“We have always been the singular funnel for social disorder and public safety issues, and the new way of doing it is multi-sector collaboratives. It’s not necessarily new, but it needs to happen at the highest level — a systems level — and all the way down to a front-line level.”
Combating guns, gangs in Peel Region
Duraiappah said shortly after getting sworn in, he received a briefing on major investigations and police initiatives. He praised the work his officers were doing in making headway, but said gang activity requires a multi-pronged response. Duraiappah said aside from investigative efforts, there needs to be more done with youth-related initiatives and social development.
“We have lots of things to do to build capacity in our community, but we can’t do it alone,” he said.
“We need funding from the ministries. Some of the gang violence knows no boundaries.
“Firearms legislation, funding, social development, community building — they all need to occur together, they’re all opportunities to mitigate risk.”
Duraiappah also reflected on the mass shooting behind an apartment complex on Darcel Avenue in Mississauga in September. Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Davis died and five others, mostly teens, were injured after police said approximately 136 shots were fired by multiple suspects.
He said while the investigation continues, police have been present in that community ever since the shooting.
“We see the incident, but we don’t see the before and we don’t see the after,” he said, adding there was a community event this past weekend.
When it comes to communities where gun violence has occurred, Duraiappah had a direct message for them.
“Those communities need to know that it’s a priority for me to make sure our people, our community, our strategies are there when they need them,” he said.