First Nations police officer living his dream

By on June 14, 2017
Chester Williams has been working in Merritt since April. Though he took the RCMP exam at 19, Williams wouldn’t become a police officer until he was 40 years old. (Michael Potestio/Herald).

Chester Williams still recalls his childhood memory of seeing black police cars drive by his home in Kitwanga, B.C., complete with white doors and red cherry siren lights on the hoods.

“As soon as they came on the reserve my mom would tell me to hide,” said Williams. “I didn’t understand then why, but I knew I was very frightened and every time I saw a police car I was always frightened,” said Williams who is now an RCMP constable.

When he got older, Williams learned why he was told to hide from police.

“Back in the day, in the residential school era, the police were the ones that apprehended the First Nations children,” said Williams.

The RCMP constable from the Gitxsan Nation, east of Terrace, B.C., said his fear of police subsided after he turned 18, which is when he began to see them as positive role models.

He said the respect he saw the general public show police officers was something he never felt as a First Nations man.

“I just liked that,” said Williams.

He wrote his RCMP exam at the age of 19, and completed an interview. However, while he did well in the interview, Williams failed the exam.

“The reason I did badly on the RCMP exam was that I didn’t have an education,” said Williams. “I was pushed through the system.”

Williams said he didn’t attend residential school, but was taken off reserve when he was 12 as part of a pilot project in the Lower Mainland where he attended various high schools and fostered with different families, eventually getting a leaving certificate.

After that Williams moved back to the reserve where he grew up and worked in a sawmill for 14 years, but his dream of becoming police officer was not over yet.

In 1996, while in his late 30s, he was given another chance to join the RCMP as he was introduced to the Aboriginal Cadet Development Program (ACDP).

“Basically, what it was was for First Nations who didn’t pass the exam, but scored high on the interview,” said Williams. “They would send us to Depot [Academy] for three weeks [to] get our basic training and then they would test our education level.”

However it was during his time in the ACDP that it became apparent that Williams needed more schooling, so he was sent to Northwest Community College to upgrade his education three days per week and two days per week he served as a special constable in his home community. 

Within a year he got his GED and wrote the RCMP exam once again and passed, went to Depot at the age of 40 and finally became a member of the organization he admired so much as a boy.

Williams’ RCMP career has been spent entirely in aboriginal policing services.

Williams became the newest member of Merritt’s First Nations policing service in April. He is responsible for policing the Lower Nicola and Upper Nicola reserves, and serves alongside three other officers in the department.

“We do a lot of proactive stuff such as delivering talks at the reserve schools, doing talks on elder abuse,” said Williams.

Williams said the value of having First Nations policing services is its ability to gain the trust of aboriginal people in helping them deal with issues that arise on reserves.

“Our mandate is not to go in there and fix the problem, our mandate is to go in there and assist them with their problems whatever they may be,” said Williams.

“We just deliver the tools and the community takes ownership of the problem and rectifies it.”

Any issue that falls under the criminal code, however, is treated like any other crime.

“Training kicks in and we investigate to the best of our abilities,” said Williams.

William’s career brought him to places around the province. His first posting was Smithers, B.C. and then from Smithers he went to 100 Mile House, Prince George and then to RCMP headquarters in Vancouver where he worked as the program co-ordinator of aboriginal policing services for eight years.

After that he spent a year with the Missing Person’s Unit and another stint in Prince George before being transferred here to Merritt. 

The married man of 33 years and father of two grown sons has been on the job in Merritt about two months, and says he loves the community.

While new too the detachment, Williams isn’t a new face to everyone, as he knows Merritt’s Staff Sgt. Sheila White and Cpl. Doug Stone from their days working together in Smithers.

“Sheila White was the corporal there and Doug Stone was in traffic,” Williams said, adding that seeing them again is great.

At the beginning of his career, Williams wanted to get to the Okanagan.

When asked why that was the goal, the man from northern B.C. replied simply; “the weather.”

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