Vol. 80, No. 2Q & A

Woman and boy sitting on log in a forest.

Bridging the gap

Community program officer helps build skills

Community Program Officer Maryah Walker helps provide the tools, skills and knowledge so that people in her community can support themselves. Credit: Courtesy of Maryah Walker

Maryah Walker is a community program officer at the RCMP's La Loche detachment in Saskatchewan. She was the first person in the province to hold the civilian job, a role that involves working with the community and police. Paul Northcott spoke to Walker about her profession, the challenges of her work, and the rewards.

What is the role of a community program officer?

It's my job to work with communities to develop crime-prevention and crime-reduction initiatives. I keep in mind the RCMP's national and divisional priorities and implement them in a meaningful way. I don't feel it's my job to go into a community and tell them how to make things better. After community consultations, we work together to find programs that are community-led and police-assisted; in my experience, this has been most effective.

How do you work with police officers?

This position allows for members to focus on investigations. If a school wants a presentation, I liaise, make the arrangements and create the presentations so the RCMP member's time is used effectively when they go into the classroom. I also help members become more culturally aware and advise them of how cultural protocols can impact policing. Many of our members have never worked or lived in a Dene community before and I help bridge the gap.

Why does the RCMP need community program officers?

Members are very busy responding to calls and they often don't have time for the community-policing aspect. I work hard to build community capacity — giving people the skills to provide their own supports. Whether we deliver Crime Stoppers, gang awareness or sexual assault education presentations, we are giving them the tools to assist with crime prevention and reduction efforts. The things we do help bring information and education so people can have all the knowledge to make the best choices.

What challenges do you face?

When bringing community members together for educational purposes, it's customary to do so over a meal. Unfortunately, we don't have the budget and often times working with youth, food is an initiator for programming. So I've built a good relationship with our mayor, council and local friendship centre. They've been great at covering the cost of lunches or snacks. They see the value in bringing the community together.

I moved here in 2011. I was a young mom and it was a bit of culture shock coming from Kitchener, Ont. But I was able to re-orient myself to the community and really enjoy the pace of life here and have picked up new hobbies.

Tell me about an initiative you consider to be a success story?

I was working with a group of young men who had a hard time engaging — they weren't coming to school consistently and weren't making the best lifestyle choices. I started working with them and the school social worker, to provide weekly programming that focused on building life skills. Over time we formed a close relationship and four are graduating this year. Looking back, it's interesting to see how far they've come, and now they are mentors for other youth.

As a non-Indigenous person working in an Indigenous area, how do you connect with your community?

My son and I have made an effort to integrate into the community. He speaks Dene and I know quite a bit. Attending community events has allowed us to make wonderful friends and to develop a support network here. This has allowed me to be more effective in my role, as a sense of trust has been established with the community.

How have you able to support your community?

I've developed trust with our community that allows people to come to me. But as much as I'm able to support them, they support me. Together we have experienced a lot of loss and I've been impacted tremendously by traumatic events our community has experienced. Because of the support our community has given back to us, that's why we're still here.

It's a give-and-take relationship. I don't have any other family here. They are my family.

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