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Two male police officers stand next to a wall-mounted storage cubicle in a school.

Liaison officers build bridges in Akwesasne

Organizing school events is just one way RCMP liaison officer Cpl. Terry Hamelin (right) works with Cst. Norm King of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service to gain a better understanding of the community. Credit: RCMP


While it's the job of RCMP officers to enforce laws, sometimes showing a different side of police work can pay dividends when it comes to community safety.

In eastern Ontario, Cpl. Terry Hamelin is an RCMP liaison officer with the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service (AMPS).

Together, both agencies serve about 15,000 residents in the Haudenosaunee Territory.

"Community policing is about building trust," says Hamelin, a 23-year veteran of general duty policing and a member of Quebec's Timiskaming First Nation. "Akwesasne is a unique policing environment as its boarders are seamless and encompass Quebec, Ontario and New York State."

Hamelin, who is based in Cornwall, Ont., began his liaison duties in August and will work with Cst. Norm King, the Community Policing Officer for AMPS. Among other things, he'll help organize community events and enhance the visibility of the RCMP in the area.

"I'll have the opportunity to meet people and be the face of the RCMP in the community," says Hamelin.

Past and present

Akwesasne faces the kind of issues that are common in many communities across Canada: homicides, assaults, gang violence, drug use, bullying and abuse.

Historically, though, the geographic position of the reserve has led to many well-publicized disputes. Some of those involve the smuggling of alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs and even people.

As well, some Indigenous residents maintain they have the right to move freely across borders.

"People regularly move across the border as people who live there consider the reserve one community," says King. "Our community is so diverse. If you don't understand it, you can't serve it."

Knowing Akwesasne means getting involved with everyone — at schools and public safety events, and with Elders.

That means organizing and planning events for young people around issues such as drug awareness, delivering public safety presentations on topics like child exploitation or human trafficking, and working with the AMPS to deliver that information.

Some events are designed to enhance police presence in the community, such as fishing with kids. Whereas others tackle more serious subjects including information sessions on domestic violence, substance abuse, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Both Hamelin and King plan the events together.

"I'm there to liaise and assist if I have the resources to help (the AMPS) and, of course, I want to help," says Hamelin. "The RCMP wants to be involved and learn about the community and the people we serve."

"We rely on the advice of each other to help the community," adds King. "And as a police force, the AMPS wants to help the RCMP learn and understand all they can about Akwesasne."

Both King and Hamelin feel, as Indigenous officers, that building relationships between the public and the police are crucial steps towards reconciliation and healing for all individuals.

Showing a different side

One RCMP officer, who's a member of the area's Joint Investigation Team — a group consisting of RCMP, AMPS and Ontario Provincial Police officers — says the work of liaison officers such as Hamelin and King is important "because it shows police in a non-enforcement role."

"It bridges the gap because I've seen how some people don't really want outside police forces on reserve," says the JIT member who can't be named for security reasons.

The officer, who's familiar with Indigenous policing, adds that communicating with First Nation Elders is key.

"Elders are held in high regard in First Nations communities and having their support is crucial. They have a tremendous amount of influence."

"His (Hamelin's) work shows that the RCMP doesn't always show up to bust people. It shows that we're working to be part of the community and to get to know people who live there. They help people see a different side of the police."

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