Shortly after his first promotion to patrol sergeant in 2002, Winnipeg cop Devon Clunis attended a Black History Month celebration where Toronto Police Service (TPS) officer Peter Sloly was the keynote speaker.
In the address, Sloly – who is now a deputy chief – identified Clunis as a leader who would one day become his Service’s first senior Black officer.
He was right.
Seven months ago, Clunis made history by becoming Canada’s first Black police chief.
Last Saturday, the Jamaican-born top cop was the keynote speaker at the TPS Black Internal Support Network (BISN) Career Day event at the police college.
“I have had to turn down a lot of requests to speak across the country, but on this occasion I couldn’t say no,” said Clunis. “When you asked if I could attend this event today, I saw this not only as an opportunity to give back to the community but also to say thanks to Peter because his words impacted me.”
Becoming a police officer in 1987, Clunis served in major areas of his organization, including uniform patrol, traffic, plainclothes investigation, community relations, organizational development & support and city-wide operational command before his history-making appointment.
“For the first nine years of the job, I loved chasing bad guys,” he said. “The epiphany for me came when I saw we were arresting a lot of kids. That was not all. I saw we were arresting Black kids and I thought this isn’t going good. We have all these kids who are in this land of opportunity and they are wasting it. We need to do something different.”
It was at this stage that Clunis left front-line patrol policing and became a school resource officer.
“I wanted to get into the prevention side of the job,” he said. “I told myself that my purpose then was to make a significant difference in the community. I went into schools and in the community trying to point young people in the right direction. To this day, those are the most enjoyable five years of my career.”
While vacationing in Florida with his family during Christmas 2011, Clunis contemplated retirement, which he was eligible for the next year.
There was however, something bothering him.
Winnipeg was again Canada’s murder capital with 41 homicides in 2011 and the city had the highest rate of severe violent crimes.
“I came back from vacation and I met with everyone in the executive except the Chief who was away on holiday,” said Clunis. “I told them I want to lead this organization to be the best it can be for all of our members who are now serving this city because we are considered to be the murder capital and the crime capital. I said we need to change that and here is what we need to do.”
When Chief Keith McCaskill returned from vacation, he announced his retirement, opening the door for Clunis to emerge as the city’s 17th police leader.
At a BISN-hosted community reception last Saturday night at Ryerson University, TPS chief Bill Blair welcomed Clunis and thanked him for sharing his experience with members of Canada’s largest municipal police service.
“You will make us stronger and your example will serve as an inspiration to all the men and women of my Service,” Blair told Clunis.
The married father of two girls was promoted to sergeant in 2004, inspector three years later and superintendent in 2010 before being appointed Chief.