New Vancouver police chief named

Surrey RCMP Chief Superintendent Jamie Graham given five-year contract

Lindsay Kines and Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, July 27, 2002

For the second time in five years, the Vancouver police department has gone elsewhere to pick its next chief.

Vancouver Mayor and police board chair Philip Owen ended months of speculation Friday by announcing that Surrey RCMP Chief Superintendent Jamie Graham will be Vancouver's new chief constable.

Graham, who has a five-year contract, will take over the department next month from Chief Constable Terry Blythe, who is retiring after 34 years with the Vancouver police -- the last three as chief.

A career RCMP officer, Graham, 53, said he applied for the job after less than a year at the helm of the Surrey detachment because the Vancouver position offered greater challenges.

"This is the biggest city in B.C., and Surrey is the second biggest," he said. "It's a bigger force, more challenges."

One of those challenges will be winning the support of a 1,400-member department that has been notoriously tough on outsiders.

Blythe's predecessor, Bruce Chambers, came to Vancouver from the Thunder Bay police force in 1997. But he failed to survive an uprising in the ranks and was fired two years into a three-year contract.

Graham, who edged out in-house favourite Inspector Bob Rich to win the job, expressed confidence he will have the support of his officers.

"I'm not Bruce Chambers," he said. "I've got my own style. I know many, many members of the Vancouver police.

"I just don't see that as an issue. I've got a five-year contract, so you've got me for five years."

Owen also tried to downplay the "outsider" issue by stressing Graham's familiarity with Vancouver. Graham previously served as executive officer of the British Columbia Police Commission for two years and headed both the North Vancouver and Surrey RCMP detachments.

"People think that perhaps he doesn't know Vancouver very well," Owen said. "I just want to remind everybody that he has spent 12 years in this region.

"His strong reputation as a police leader, an innovative problem solver, and a great team builder is going to serve us very well."

Owen then briefly forgot Graham's name while introducing him to the media Friday and had to be prompted by Graham himself. It was a fitting conclusion to a gruelling and, at times, bizarre selection process that dragged on for months and resulted in frequent leaks to the media.

Earlier this year, Owen said he hoped to announce the new chief by late April or early May. But as the deadline passed and rumours swirled, reporters learned the crop of 19 candidates had been narrowed to Graham and Rich, prompting published profiles of the two men, and reports that both were being sent for psychological testing.

Graham acknowledged the "fairly long process" Friday and offered an olive branch to Rich by praising him as a "credit to the force."

"I think I know what you've been through lately, Bob," he said.

Rich, for his part, praised the new chief in a later interview saying he always considered Graham "the person that would be really difficult to beat in this competition because I know how good he is."

And, like Owen, Rich minimized Graham's outsider status. "My position was that this department is open to having the right person lead it regardless of whether he's inside or outside," he said. The department struggled under Chambers, but that was because he was a poor fit as chief, Rich said.

"Jamie Graham is somebody who is extremely qualified for the position and I think he's going to do an excellent job. I'm looking forward to the next five years with him. I think we'll be able to put a team together that can really do the things that have to be done."

As for reports that he is being groomed to replace Graham in 2007, Rich described them as "inaccurate."

"To try to look five years in the future is beyond any of us," he said. "The problem with trying to groom five years in advance is that there'll be some other stars come rising up in five years that you have to have a pretty darn good look at when you go to pick another chief."

Vancouver police union president Tom Stamatakis said his members are happy that a chief has finally been named and look forward to working with Graham. The fact that Graham comes from the RCMP is of less concern because he has worked on the Lower Mainland and is familiar with policing issues here, Stamatakis said.

"What we'd like to see now is somebody come in and be a very effective leader that represents the Vancouver Police Department well," he said. "He's got a five-year mandate, which I think is appropriate, and we just look forward to having some stability in that position for a number of years now."

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Wally Oppal, who led an inquiry into policing in B.C. in the early 1990s, also expressed confidence in Graham, whom he has known for a long time.

"He has an excellent policing background," Oppal said. "He has the respect of senior managers in policing and he's had the respect of civic governments wherever he's worked.

"He has a lot of people skills. He's politically astute. The major task he's going to have is to bring all of the members onside. He is an outsider, but I think he has enough people skills to accomplish that."

Oppal said Graham will also have to reach out to the multicultural communities, many of whom feel alienated by police, as well as deal with the drug problem on the Downtown Eastside.

"I think if he does all of those things, he will be successful."

Graham said he expects to get briefed on the many issues facing his department in the coming weeks and be sworn in as chief Aug. 12. He indicated that strategic planning and creating a vision for the department will be among his top priorities.

"Communication is a big issue for me -- the ability to get the message out; running a transparent organization."

He also promised to be more visible than previous chiefs, who have rarely put in an appearance at the morning briefing sessions with the media. "You'll probably get sick of seeing me."

He declined, however, to answer any questions on specific issues such as widespread criticism of the Vancouver Police Department's handling of the case of women missing from the Downtown Eastside.

"I'm not sworn in yet, so I wouldn't even tackle those kinds of questions at the moment," he said.

He was also unavailable for interviews Friday, and the media were asked to submit formal requests for any future one-on-one meetings with him.

Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn is among the 63 women missing from the Downtown Eastside, said he wants the new chief to commit to the on-going investigation.

"I am looking for an unequivocal statement from the new police chief that the VPD is firmly committed to the ongoing investigation of the missing women," Crey said.

"A statement of this nature from the new chief of police would be a real comfort to the families of the missing women and it might also help to dispel some of the lingering doubts that still exist about the role of the VPD in this investigation. If the new chief seizes this moment, I am confident some measure of public trust would be restored in the VPD."

On other issues, Graham said he supports the mayor's drug's strategy, which he called "excellent." He also listed his involvement in a recent forum on Indo-Canadian youth violence as one of his proudest accomplishments of recent months.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said Friday that Graham will be tough to replace.

"Certainly Vancouver's getting a really good police chief. Jamie's inter-personal skills are certainly the best I've seen as far as dealing with the community and dealing with the staff and working to make sure that community policing is working."

McCallum said Surrey has always encouraged staff to follow their dream jobs, even if it means leaving the municipality.

"I think it is important for individuals that if they want to move ahead in certain areas, then we welcome that," McCallum said.

Superintendent Randy Bennett, who is second-in-command in Surrey, has agreed to be acting chief until the position can be filled.

Graham, who has been married for 19 years to lawyer Gail Graham, plans to move from Surrey to Vancouver.

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun



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