Delta Police: 125 years on the beat
While the vast expanses of verdant farmland that define Delta's landscape may have changed little since they were first plowed more than a century ago, the communities that farmland now surrounds would hardly be recognizable to a visitor from the 19th century.
Decades of exponential growth have seen Ladner, Tsawwassen, and North Delta evolve from sleepy agricultural backwaters to bustling modern suburbs.
And just as these communities have evolved, so too has the police force tasked with protecting its citizens.
For the past 125 years, that job has fallen to the Delta Police Department.
"Police work has changed so much, just in my lifetime," says Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford. "Technology puts information right at our fingertips, and the demands on our time for legal cases means the majority of our time is spent doing administrative work."
A living piece of history himself, Cessford is the Delta Police Department's longest serving chief, and is currently the longest-serving chief of any police force in Canada.
The force he administers looks nothing like the one founded 125 years ago.
On July 7, 1888, Joesph Jordan was appointed by Delta Council as the community's first chief constable, marking the birth of the Delta Police Department. The part-time position paid $75 per month, and it wasn't until 1891 that Jordan was given a badge and a gun.
The frontier days of the late 19th century saw Jordan spend most of his time policing the Chinatown that existed between Ladner and Port Guichon, then a hotbed of gambling, prostitution, and opium addiction.
"[Delta] was really just a village back then," says S/Sgt. Sharlene Brooks. "The police chief did all the jobs in those day, he was the police department."
Brooks has spent the past three years working with retired police officers and historians to collect information on the Delta Police Department's past for a new book to be released later this year.
The project started as a simple update to the department's website and soon grew into an entire history book, which will be released in conjunction with Delta Police Week in May.
"The department had very humble beginnings," says Brooks.
By 1912, a police station and small jail were housed in the basement of the Delta Municipal Hall, where the Delta Museum now stands.
Isolated from the rest of the Lower Mainland by the Fraser River, Delta was a largely stagnant farming and fishing community, until the opening of the George Massey Tunnel until in 1959.
"There were significant impacts for policing with the opening of the tunnel," explains Brooks. The population exploded almost overnight as Delta became a commuter suburb. That brought with it an increase in automobile traffic, presenting its own policing challenges.
Delta Police moved to 24/7 service in 1957, and during the 1960s the department grew along with the community it served, evolving into the modern force seen today, now numbering 170 sworn officers.
However, modern police work bears little resemblance to the work done by previous generations, Cessford explains.
"We're expected to be mental health experts, counsellors, lawyers, judges, and problem solvers," he says. "We're all things to all people."
One of the biggest changes in policing have been the rapid advances in technology.
"Today, everything we do is electronic," says Cessford. "Our dispatch, our files, everything. It's a whole new way of communicating"
Technology has also changed the nature of crime. Sexual exploitation over the internet is a major concern for the department.
Ever-changing laws have also had dramatic effects on police work.
"We've moved from a justice system to legal system," says Cessford. "It's all about legal loopholes, and not about keeping the law simple so ordinary people can understand it."
Cessford says the law changes daily, and police officers now spend the majority of their time doing administrative work in support of lengthy criminal trials.
As a result of the multi-faceted nature of modern police work, selecting who becomes an officer is much more discriminating than in the past.
Today, potential police officers undergo a six-month screening process before being accepted into a nine-month training program at the Justice Institute, including an on-the-job practicum.
Potential officers must undergo a psychological assessment, interviews, polygraph tests, and rigorous physical testing.
A markedly different approach was taken when Cessford was starting out with the Edmonton Police Service 45 years ago.
"They looked at me, and I was a big guy, I played football and I could defend myself, so they said I got the job. And that was that!" he says. "Today it's much more selective, much more competitive. You have to be squeaky clean just to get through the door. But the quality of police officers we have today is much higher."
Delta has been the setting for a number of high profile crimes over the years.
The 1992 murders of Sharon Huenemann and Doris Leatherbarrow in Tsawwassen, the 2006 murder of teacher and mother Manjit Panghali, and the 2010 murder of 15-year-old Laura Szendrei, are but a few of the major crimes to have made headlines across the country.
The department has also lost some of its own in the line of duty. In 2000, Cst. Mark Nieuwenhuis was killed in a motorcycle crash while on duty. In 1974, S/Sgt Ronald Edward McKay was shot in the line of duty while apprehending a suspect in a gas station robbery. A memorial to McKay now sits in from of the Delta Police headquarters.
With talk of a move towards a regional police force, Cessford says the DPD provides policing at community-level a large regional force just can't offer.
With expected growth in North Delta, Ladner, Tsawwassen, as well as the Tsawwasen First Nation, each community presents its own unique policing challenges.
"It's really like four separate communities we serve," says Cessford.
What hasn't changed in 125, Cessford says, is the force's commitment to those communities and their citizens.
"This is our community," he says. "This is our home too."