Law enforcement in Eeyou Istchee is changing rapidly as Cree local community police forces are being merged into one regional police force to be known as the Eeyou-Eenou Police Force with Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff to serve as its first police commissioner.
Though the bylaw for the new police organization was created last fall, when Bill 54 was passed on June 12, it led to the creation of the Eeyou-Eenou Police Force and its implementation was part of the Paix des Braves agreement. The bylaw stated that the CRA vice-chairman is also to serve as the police commissioner.
According to Iserhoff, there will be few immediate changes as the policing situation and its needs, along with the needs of social services such as youth protection, have to be assessed first.
Under the new commission, the police forces in Eeyou Istchee will be under one group though they will still maintain the way they have been operating up to now and maintain the same joint tasks with the Surete du Quebec around the territory. The only major difference for the time being is that Cree police forces will no longer be divided by community.
No decisions on making new equipment purchases have been made at this time and they will not be until the equipment currently in use is assessed.
Though his new position as police commissioner will not be a fulltime position, as he will also remain as Deputy Chief, Iserhoff insists that if there are improvements to be made then he will ensure that they happen. For the time being the commission is looking to hire a series of regional officers, directors and captains.
Despite the fact that no meetings have taken place yet under the new police commission, Iserhoff already has one major priority in mind. “Considering everything that is going on in the Cree Nation, crime prevention is the first thing I would like to work on using the police services and all of the officers,” he said.
He put a particular emphasis on this in regards to youth crime and the large number of young people who are presently under the youth protection act. Iserhoff would like to start seeing young people in the communities making “better choices” and is looking to address youth crime through the school system to “encourage them to do the right things.”
Iserhoff, who was once an auxiliary police officer in Mistissini, said that under the new commission “everything is going to be adapted to the Cree way of doing things and for that we will probably get a lot of guidance from our Elders.”
He also said that there are issues that are now being addressed within the new agreement that will help police concerns in the community to help the services that they provide.
“We are there to implement what has been agreed to and suggest to the Grand Council and to the people how we are going to do things because when it comes to actually making choices, it starts with the individual,” said Iserhoff.
The announcement of Iserhoff’s appointment as police commissioner came as good news to police directors Bradley Mianscum of Mistissini and Samuel House of Chisasibi who both felt confident with the decision.
“I am very happy for Mr. Iserhoff that he is the first commissioner and when he is an old man he will have the bragging rights,” said Mianscum with a laugh.
House also felt that the nomination of Iserhoff was ideal because in the past he has been so supportive of police services. “Ashley understands the police file and we have good communication with him,” said House.
Another development Crees will see comes with the May 23 announcement that the Ministry of Justice has given $336,669 for the creation of the Cree Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC).
The CAVAC will be the 17th in the province and will provide frontline posttrauma services, information and assistance to crime victims and their families and to those who have witnessed crimes.
The funding for this program will be separate from other budgets according to Iserhoff who said, that while promoting the federal agreement last September, a great deal of community members complained that there was no resources for victims of crimes.