Slow and steady wins the learning race

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Saskatoon’s new police chief, Troy Cooper, spent a decade working toward his AU Bachelor of Criminal Justice degree — but pacing was key to his success. With a main job ‘to serve and protect,” applying a lifelong-learning mindset far outweighed the ‘end goal.’


Troy Cooper, newly appointed police chief to Saskatoon Police Service [photo credit: Saskatoon Police Service, 2018]

It goes without saying our alumni continue to shine as outstanding and inspiring examples of Athabasca University grads making a difference in their communities. Saskatoon’s Troy Cooper is one of these leaders worth celebrating. On Wednesday, February 28, at Saskatoon City Hall, the board of police commissioners officially made Cooper that city’s new police chief — the 12th person to serve — and a first for Canada’s Métis community, marking its debut at the helm of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS)

Since his swearing in nearly three months ago, Cooper, 52, has had his policing plate filled to over-flowing — and then some. Little did the father of five (19-year-old boy-girl twins, and three adult daughters) know that even before his wife would be able to transfer from her job in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to join him in Saskatoon, that he’d be leading the province’s communities through some horrendously challenging times — and not just the ones that came with the territory — like the fact Saskatoon is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, and is also dealing with a burgeoning opioid epidemic. But, rather, some specific, gut-tugging events that have plagued the province since the new year. From the not-guilty verdict handed down by a jury in the Colten Boushie murder case (inciting country-wide controversy, division, and backlash) to the sudden, tragic bus accident which caimed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, Chief Cooper has had his work cut out for him, in ways he couldn’t have possibly foreshadowed for one so early into the job.

But it was certainly not something he wasn’t well-prepared for ‘in-the-event-of‘ (*fill in the blank*). After all, coming to the aid of communities, both large-and-small, is in Troy Cooper’s DNA.

Chief Troy Cooper of the Saskatoon Police Service with Board of Saskatoon Police Commissioner Chair Darlene Brander, at Cooper’s swearing-in ceremony at Saskatoon City Hall, Feb. 28, 2018 [photo credit: Saskatoon Police Service]

Members of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, and Saskatoon Tribal Council, wrap Troy Cooper in a ceremonial blanket following Cooper’s swearing-in ceremony at Saskatoon City Hall, Feb. 28, 2018 [photo credit: Saskatoon Police Service]

With his extraordinary trajectory in policing, as a ranking officer in Prince Albert for 25 years, to becoming that city’s chief of police in 2012, as well a keen awareness of his own Métis roots, Cooper saw to it that building, and bridging, community relationships would be central to his ‘chief’ status. And he plans on delivering on that same ethos in Saskatoon. There’s a good reason he was the ‘chosen one’ to lead the SPS. Cooper believes in fostering a culture of inclusion and community and, most importantly “to make sure that we continue to reflect the entire community.”

So far, that mission has been met, in spades, including at a recent Round Dance performed at SPS headquarters by student-union members of First Nations University of Canada. “It was their round dance; it wasn’t intended for us – but we had a space, and they’re part of our community,” says Cooper.

“That kind of thing is a great example of how we could be engaged in the community and start forming some [new] relationships. And, for us, it was particularly special because the university students were actually our ‘teachers,’ showing us their tradition, and their art, and their dance, and their music. It was a really great way to recognize the call to action around education. They educated us.”

We’re going to include the Indigenous community in our service and in our service delivery in new ways, so that their voice is heard and officers have regular positive personal experiences with culture.
~ Chief Troy Cooper, at his swearing-in ceremony at Saskatoon City Hall, Feb. 28, 2018

Other transformative steps Cooper says his organization is leading, with respect to diversity and matters of inclusion, involve a commitment to including Indigenous communities into the SPS “on a deeper level.”

“We have to recognize that we have a special relationship with the First Nation community here – so those steps are going to be taken,” says Cooper, citing his organization’s plans to create an Indigenous Women’s Committee on-site. “[The Committee] will be looking at our policies that relate to Indigenous women — policies around domestic violence, policies around how we handle missing persons, that sort of thing.”

Earning his stripes and his degree

Being a leader in law and justice is one thing; developing leadership as an AU learner is another. Troy graduated from Athabasca University in 2014 with his Bachelor of Professional Arts degree in Criminal Justice. While it took him more than a decade to reach this milestone, he wasn’t in any hurry; the learning process and its applicability to his job far outweighed the ‘end goal.’

In fact, if there’s any advice he’d like to impart to current or potential AU learners, it’s exactly that: to “try to take value from every class … as something valuable in itself.”

“If I had tried to focus on the end goal, I would have probably quit – because it was so far down the road,” Cooper asserted, recalling what it was like studying while juggling a family of five children, and a full-time job with intense civic responsibility.

“I realized I should do what I can do today because time passes anyway,” he explained.

He also suggests learners try to apply (like he did) what they glean from their AU courses, to their day jobs (if applicable).

“Being active in policing while I was learning about the theories of policing, was practical,” he noted.

“So, when I learned crime theory – sexual offending for example, these were explanations about what I was seeing as a police officer. I was seeing the offending, and then I was learning why the offending was taking place … I was actually able to use my education to develop policies that would be more strategic.”

We need to celebrate the fact that this university, Athabasca, exists because it’s providing really flexible learning – and to make sure that people are aware that it exists, and that it’s valuable, and that they should consider looking at it.
~ Chief Troy Cooper, Saskatoon Police Service

As for advice to his fellow alum, Cooper says to remember the benefits behind AU. And, above all, to spread the word.

“There are so many people within our [Canadian] organizations that may not recognize AU is available to them … and to make sure that people are aware that it exists, and that it’s valuable, and that they should consider looking at it.

“We need to celebrate the fact that this university, Athabasca, exists because it’s providing really flexible learning. For me, I mean, it was incredibly flexible. I had raised a family, I had a career, I had a whole lot of other things going on — it didn’t mean I had to remove myself from learning, it just slowed me at times, [but] then I could pick up the pace again.

“There’s a whole host of programs available through Athabasca. Mine, criminology, applied to me, but there are tonnes of other programs that would apply to many different organizations.”


Look for more news on Troy Cooper’s journey to the top brass of the Saskatoon Police Service, including his reverence for his Métis culture, and the importance of creating Canadian cultures of inclusion, in the next issue of OPEN magazine. We’ll keep you posted when the launch date is confirmed!