Black in Halifax: A police inspector and his badge of honour
Dean Simmonds is the highest rank within Halifax Regional Police for anyone from his community. It's something he embraces.
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Growing up in North Preston, Dean Simmonds dreamed of becoming a social worker. He wanted a job that would allow him to help people, but becoming a police officer had never crossed his mind.
“Being in a community that was faced with obstacles most of my life, I didn’t think that it was something that I could actually have,” he recalled.
But in September, almost 17 years after joining the Halifax Regional Police, Simmonds was promoted from sergeant to the rank of inspector.
It’s the highest rank anyone from his part of Halifax has achieved, an accomplishment he doesn’t take lightly. He's one of only 46 sworn officers in the force who identify as "racially visible," out of 518.
“I’ve never gotten offended when someone was mad at me or felt that they couldn’t talk to me because of the uniform,” he said. “I knew that was a barrier that I had to break to let them know that I am here. It might not be OK for you to talk to me today, but whenever you’re willing to, I will.”
Simmonds' eyes light up when he talks about the community he loves. He's spent years volunteering as a basketball and football coach in Dartmouth.
“I believe, as a member of the community of North Preston, I have to show that — you know what? We are a really good community. We are people who are religious, who believe in integrity and we have so much to offer,” he said.
“I want to show the young men and women in that community that anything is obtainable. If you don’t want to be a police officer, that’s OK, but whatever you want to do, you want to be the best at whatever you do.”
Simmonds believes it’s important to be active in the community and to be seen as approachable, down-to-earth, “just Dean.” He recognizes that many people see him as a role model, and he considers that both an honour and a responsibility.
“Seeing young individuals that I’ve spent time with throughout my policing career, seeing those young people who I had some influence on go to university or graduate from high school is one of the biggest rewards for me,” he said.
“I try to make every graduation because I think it’s important that they see the support not only from their family but members from within their community.”
Reflecting on his career so far, he believes his best police work includes the relationships he made as a community response officer in Uniacke Square.
“I had an opportunity to help a community, to provide a community leadership that I wanted as a kid and that I looked for in others,” he said.
“I think I did that. I truly believe it. It was hard to get into the community, but I think they knew that I was genuine. I truly meant good.”
Simmonds smiles when asked to share details about his time there.
“I’ve got many stories. It makes me emotional because you see some of these young men and women, and they’re doing so well,” he said.
He recalls time spent with residents who found an outlet at the community’s Centreline Studios.
“I would go in and I would listen to the young men and women sing about their life and expressing through music what they feel, and they had a voice, and it was my way to listen and see what I could do to help,” he said.
“There’d be days I’d just walk in without the uniform and have conversations with the individuals to let them know that I appreciate what they’re doing and ask what can I do better... We always can be better if we’re just listening to others.”
Simmonds is hopeful there will be more Black faces around the table at Halifax Regional Police in the future.
“When I was a kid I wanted to see this. I really wanted to see this, so I know the good I have to do with this for my communities. Not just North Preston, but for Halifax, for the Dartmouth area, for everyone,” he said.
“I want to keep doing that, keep giving back so that we can some day say we aren’t talking about ‘the first one from North Preston’ anymore. We will be talking about multiple ones from that particular community.”
This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.