New police chief returns to his rural roots
Edmonton Police Service Insp. Mark Neufeld speaks about Edmonton’s homicides during a news conference at police headquarters in Edmonton in 2016. He starts in Camrose on July 24. Postmedia Network file
Camrose’s new top cop is making a bit of a homecoming.
Mark Neufeld grew up in Ryley, and originally wanted to be a fish and wildlife officer. However, after some influence from his roommates who were all training to be police officers, he followed suit. Soon he found himself walking a beat in East Hastings in downtown Vancouver for two years, before eventually ending up with the Edmonton Police Service. There he worked his way up the ladder and spent the last decade and more as a high ranking officer with the EPS while also holding positions with the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team. Now he is leaving behind a place that has been his home for 27 years to return to his roots.
“I always thought I would police in smaller communities, but life does what life does,” said new Camrose Police Chief Neufeld, 49.
“It’s not so much about wanting it to be slower, but I do think there is something to be said for the business to be a little bit more personal.”
At the age of 19, Neufeld was the Director of Agriculture for Beaver County and in the interest of picking up more experience as he chased his passion of becoming a fish and wildlife officer he became an auxiliary officer with the RCMP in Tofield. He went to Lethbridge College for school, and unbeknownst to him all three of his roommates were law enforcement students. It had an effect on him, and he was swayed by the RCMP detachment commander to put on the blue.
“He said if you really want to do this job, don’t worry so much about the colour of the shirt, just get on and do the job and if there is any moving around to do after, you can do that then,” said Neufeld.
He was encouraged to take a position in Vancouver and found himself working in one of the worst neighbourhoods in Canada, a street overrun with poverty and drugs.
“I went from a town of 500 people, right to downtown Vancouver,” said Neufeld. “I worked right down in the skid row area, I had never seen most of what I saw down there … It certainly opened my eyes to what goes on in other areas, not in rural Alberta.”
But he never shied away from the ugliness of the situation. It is a resolve that served him well later in his career while as the Superintendent i/c Criminal Investigations Division in Edmonton. He spent almost two and a half years with the division dealing with basically the worst cases in the city, everything ranging from homicides, to robbery, arson, economic crimes, auto theft, missing persons, domestic conflict, senior protection, sexual assault, and child protection.
The morning briefings were the worst as they went over the list of activity from the day before. He looked forward to Mondays as much as one would the plague.
“At functions when I spoke, I used to say ‘Let me tell you why I don’t like Mondays ...’” said Neufeld. “Monday was the day we had to hear about what happened Sunday, Saturday and Friday night. It’s always shocking the stuff that’s going on in larger centres. I think police officers do a good job in compartmentalizing some of that stuff and getting the job done.”
In October, he transferred to the Southwest Division where he served as Superintendent i/c. The division presented a new slate of challenges, including dealing with a whole host of different cultures and communities, each with their own characteristics. But, there was a completely different energy with the officers he was working with.
“When I moved out to Southwest Division, it was quite a bit different … We were providing frontline police services to the community, we were engaged in a lot more community activities, it was a lot more positive,” said Neufeld. “We were talking mostly in that other role about the bad things all of the time, and in this role we have new employees coming into the service that are at the early part of their career, they’re energized and excited, they’re involved. It was all very high energy and positive.”
He says it is a very similar energy to what he is inheriting with the CPS.
Neufeld is taking over a force where many of the members have only ever known one chief, Darrell Kambeitz who retired after 10 years as chief and 37 on the force in March.
Neufeld says he is not going to be throwing the baby out with the bath water when he starts officially on July 24. He says the Police Commission and Kambeitz have left the force in terrific shape — earning their gold standard in public safety and midway through a four-year accreditation — and are in the midst of a strategic plan that does not require updating until next year. This will allow him to fully assess the force and slowly implement changes if they are needed.
“This is a great police service, they have over achieved for many years in terms of the size of the police service in the province and for what they contribute,” said Neufeld. “The first month would look like focussing on the inside and getting to know people and develop relationships.”
He is also coming to a much quieter community as compared to what he had been fully immersed in for the last 27 years. The last homicide in Camrose was in 2012, there have been 22 in Edmonton already this year while there were 40 last year.
Filling out Camrose’s crime stats, are property crimes and illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine, which usually go hand-in-hand. While there is a growing concern of fentanyl sinking its claws into the scene as it has in other communities like Edmonton and Red Deer. Neufeld, however, says the drug is not a problem here yet and the force has taken preventative measure to be in good position to deal with it if or when it does come to the city.
One of the other big concerns for Neufeld is domestic abuse, something which he dealt a lot with in Edmonton, and points to an emergency women’s shelter in Camrose that has expanded and is almost always filled to capacity. He says a collaborative approach needs to be taken to deal with the issue.
“You see the impact of that on children. When you think of people living in that type of a situation, those are supposed to be the relationships … where you’re supposed to be safe. If you can’t feel safe there, where are you supposed to feel safe?” said Neufeld. “We have a role to play with our partners around prevention and intervention, to try to prevent as much of that as we can.”
Neufeld will be relocating to the city with his wife Lynn, a communications officer with the provincial government. They have four grown children, one of which is at MacEwan University in Edmonton, following in his footsteps in the criminology program.
Education is not quite over for him either. He is currently enrolled in University of Cambridge’s Master’s Degree program in Applied Criminology and Police Management, a program he was recruited into.
He is not taking the program to move further up the ladder, he views this posting as potentially his last, pointing to the longevity enjoyed by previous chiefs like Kambeitz.
“Darrell’s assured me there’s a reason he was here for 10 years,” said Neufeld.