Ottawa's Police Have Something to Sing About

Article excerpt

Positive working police-community relations are usually local affairs. Most law enforcement administrators would agree they take many years to nurture, but results can be so impressive the work is worth the commitment.

Neighborhood Watch and Crime Stoppers programs are cases in point. Success for such definable programs did not come overnight. First, police had to build bridges of trust to the communities. Police also had to convince citizens that effective policing, whether enforcement, protection or prevention, was a shared responsibility. Moreover, this had to be done in a manner that would not compromise enforcement ability, weaken authority or endanger citizens. In order to "serve and protect" police have had to reach out to their communities to covince them of the validity and human character of this mission.

Proactively building bridges for strong community relations has been done in many ways. Building a police image has been done of these. The badge for example, is an important part of this image. Other symbols serve to balance the sometimes authoritarian public image: uniforms, for example. Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are recognized world-wide by their scarlet tunics, even though these uniforms are worn only on very important occasions. They have been a source of pride to the force and to the Canadian public for decades.

The Musical RCMP

In another effort to sustain its traditions and maintain its proud image as Canada's national police force, for decades the RCMP has performed the now famous RCMP Musical Ride. The riders are all line police officers, demonstrating the precision horsemanship skills that are learned during training for every officer in the RCMP. The Musical Ride reaches audiences in more than a hundred Canadian communities each year. The Mounties and horses are so synonymous in Canada that Mounties are sometimes referred to as the "Horsemen." Thanks to the Musical Ride, the Mounties are also synonymous in the public's perception with discipline, strength, bearing and confidence- all equally positive attributes.

If symbols are the girders of community relations building, local heroes are the rivets that hold the girders together. Nowhere has this been better illustrated than in Ottawa, Canada, where, for more than 30 years, the community has known Police Sergeant Dominic D'Arcy as the "Singing Policeman." Although retired last year, D'Arcy remains under contract to the Ottawa Regional Police Service to coordinate Special Events in its Community Services unit, a measure of the regard for the success of his work in local community relations and youth education.

D'Arcy Sings for Schools

Now 60 years old and in the 36th year of his police career, Dominic D'Arcy grew up the youngest son in a family of 12 children. In 1965, he followed two brothers into the police force. That year D'Arcy, along with several fellow officers, formed the (Ottawa Police) Folk and Country Music Show, playing benefits around the city when off-duty. It was fun and entertaining, but it didn't last. Of that original band, only D'Arcy continued with the music.

Over time, D'Arcy's music became more than fun and entertainment. His act became the gateway to educating his audiences, many of which were groups of school children. His message was clear, focusing on alcohol, drug abuse, smoking and general anti-social behavior such as bullying issues. Moreover, he encouraged young people to become involved in carrying the message to their peers. His message has never stressed the "no-no's" as much as it has stressed the simple value of believing in oneself.

"Young people particularly need to know they have options to hanging out with the local crew, and they need to have the self-confidence that their energy, strength and creativity can be harnessed to these options," said D'Arcy. "I talk about options a lot and I talk, maybe preach a bit, about the confidence they should have for doing the right thing for themselves. …